2014 Sports

NBC Sports Network Goes Niche to Stay in the Game

Lack of One-Stop-Shop Platform Helps Net Avoid Direct Competition With ESPN

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Without the benefit of live football, baseball or basketball in its lineup, NBC Sports Network is going niche.
Since being rebranded from Versus, NBCSN has spent the last two years positioning itself as a go-to network for sports that don't tend to get much airtime elsewhere.

NBCSN is the only place for Americans to watch Premier League soccer.
NBCSN is the only place for Americans to watch Premier League soccer. Credit: Getty Images

"At NBC Sports Network we are talking to the loyalists," said NBC Sports Group Chief Marketing Officer John Miller. "Our goal is to first make it a destination for the sports we carry. If we are able to be a destination for one of your favorite sports, the hope is we are able to become a destination for another."

Since joining NBC in 1982, Mr. Miller has held various executive marketing, advertising, promotion and programming roles before founding the NBC Agency, which markets all of NBC's TV properties, in 1999. Mr. Miller, who is credited with creating NBC's "Must See TV" tagline, went into quasi-retirement in 2010, returning a year later to focus on the company's sports assets.

For now, NBCSN isn't looking to be a one-stop shop for sports fans that would directly compete with ESPN. As the exclusive cable home to the National Hockey League and the only place for Americans to watch Premier League and Formula One, NBCSN can own franchises in a way it couldn't with other sports.

But carrying niche sports in the U.S. means Mr. Miller -- who also leads marketing and branding for the Peacock Network's sports coverage, Golf Channel and 12 regional sports networks -- needs to get creative when it comes to marketing.

John Miller, NBC Sports Group CMO
John Miller, NBC Sports Group CMO

"The challenge with the Premier League is there are no home teams" for U.S. fans, said Mr. Miller. To create fervor, NBCSN designed a "team picker" that used Facebook, Twitter and quiz information to match viewers with a team. Once they picked a team they were contacted by the team they chose to establish a one-on-one relationship. NBC placed a big bet on Premier League, paying an estimated $250 million for a three-year deal. NBC will make all 380 Premier League matches available to viewers on various platforms, with most matches airing on NBCSN.

Since debuting in August, Premier League has provided a substantial ratings boost to NBCSN, especially after an extensive marketing blitz surrounding its launch. The initiative included a swath of ads in Times Square and wraps on New York subway cars in the colors of rival clubs.

But it was NBCSN's spot featuring former "Saturday Night Live" cast member Jason Sudeikis playing an American football coach who takes over as manager of Premier League team Tottenham Hotspur that received the most attention. The spoof went viral, and while it was meant to be humorous, Mr. Miller said it also served as an instructional primer.

NBCSN's next marketing campaign will bow during the Winter Olympics in Sochi, for which the network will be the live home.

The brand campaign will promote the network's coverage of the NHL, Premier League, horse racing, motor sports and the Tour de France, among others.

"The goal coming out of the Olympics is greater awareness and intent to view NBCSN," Mr. Miller said.

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