I tuned in last night to watch the Minnesota Wild and Tampa Bay Lightning game. It wasn't on my regional, so I had to consult the TV Guide to find out where the game was being broadcast. The game, in fact, was being broadcast on VERSUS.
Watching the game, I was wondering why there were so many NHL on NBC tags throughout the game. And then, I got my answer: VERSUS will become NBC Sports Network on January 2, 2012.
This will be the third rebranding of the VERSUS channel. VERSUS originally started out as OLN - Outdoor Living Network. The channel mostly featured shows on outdoor sporting activity: fishing, hunting, etc. The channel was re-branded in 2006 as VERSUS and focused more on mainstream sports.
Will this re-branding work? It seems that this channel is trying to break into an already crowded sports channel market. ABC has it's ESPN channels: ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN Classic, ESPN U, ESPNews. FOX has its sports channels, mostly regional FOX Sports Net. And, somewhere in that mix is VERSUS. Of course, VERSUS has done a very good job with NHL broadcasts.
It is interesting to this reporter that the new channel will debut in 2012. NBC will now have its own sports cable outlet when the Summer Olympics come around. NBC has such a stranglehold on the broadcast rights to the Olympics. Typically, NBC cable channels, i.e. CNBC, MSNBC and of course, the over-the-air NBC rearrange their schedules for three weeks to fit hours of Olympic coverage.
Now, it would seem that NBC can allot a great deal of Olympic coverage to their new cable sports channel and not have to mess with broadcast schedules of their other cable interests. MSNBC can seemingly go on with their regular broadcast schedule without having to worry about fitting in the finals of men’s gymnastics or rowing.
But, will the new NBC sports channel hold up with the ESPN’s and FOX’s? I wonder if that’s why OLN/VERSUS/NBC Sports Channel has gone through so many re-brands and re-launches. It seems the channel is trying to keep up with the “giants” of sports broadcasting.
Several years ago, here in Minnesota, while FOX Sports Net had already made its mark in the Twin Cities market, the Minnesota Twins had a brainstorm to begin their own cable sports channel. The Twins branded it Victory Sports. Victory Sports never got on the air.
It was a pipe dream at best. Incidentally, the Twins had previously had their own sports channel, branded Midwest Sports Channel (MSC). MSC was eventually taken over by-you guessed it-FOX Sports Net, and eventually became what is now called FOX Sports North.
Time will tell if the new NBC Sports Channel will be a smashing success. But for now, the days of VERSUS are numbered and there will be a new kid on the block in 24-hour sports broadcasting very soon.