Versus to Become NBC Sports Network

6 Sep

Welcome back to The Sports Ace, where we always get a long weekend.

A few weeks ago, in an announcement that wasn’t talked about as much as deserved, Comcast and the NBC Sports Group announced they will change the name of the Versus Network.  The new name, effective January 2, 2012: NBC Sports Network.  Ratings haven’t been very good for the network, and they’re doing what they can to fix that.

I think they’re going to succeed on this one.  Comcast/NBC has it right, as you can tell from this quote in an article from the August 2 issue of USA Today:

“This is more than just a name change for Versus,” NBC Sports Group boss Mark Lazarus said in a statement. “It’s a complete repositioning of the brand.”

You’d better believe it.  Sure, ratings have a lot to do with the success of a television network, and when your most marketable asset is the NHL you’re not going to set the television world on fire.  Still, this was a brilliant branding move, and here’s why: brands are all about the experiences they drive for their consumers.  If you have a good experience with a product, you’re more likely to consume that product – and others like it, or others from the same company, etc. – in the future.  Is there a more trusted and valued brand in television than NBC?  If yes, there sure aren’t many…people will click over to the new network not just because they love the NHL or cycling, but because they think they’ll get a quality NBC product.

At that point, of course, the network still has to deliver the goods.  And I think they will – Versus has VERY quietly done some of the best sports production and broadcasting work anywhere in the last couple of years.  Plus, the NBC name, visual look and deep resources will open up negotiation channels for programming contracts that the Versus name hadn’t done before.  This move already means future Olympics will be aired completely via the Peacock, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the NBC Sports Network land at least a partial TV contract with someone bigger than the NHL (maybe even the NBA, who already works has ties to NBC and whose owners surely wouldn’t turn down creative new revenue streams given their nasty lockout).  With a tipping point like that, you could have a new major sports network to contend with.

The NBC name will help people find the network, and then the product will win them over.  That’s exactly how you execute a successful re-brand.  There’s lots of work to do, but the NBC Sports Network is off to a good start.

That’s all for now.  I’m out like last year’s BCS title game participants.


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