New Versus boss revving up IRL

October 9, 2008
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versusThe new president of Philadelphia-based cable channel Versus said he is not out to mimic ESPN. That might be good news for many Indy Racing League fans who complained bitterly about ESPN’s coverage of the open-wheel series last season.

Jamie Davis, who took over at Versus Sept. 2, said he is bent on bringing in more original content and digital services to the channel formerly known as Outdoor Life Network in an effort to attract a younger audience.

The IRL coverage will be used to showcase Versus’ capabilities, said Davis, who took over for Gavin Harvey, who presided over much of the negotiations that brought the open-wheel series over from ESPN. He added that by attracting a younger demographic, Versus will help the IRL grow.

Davis said attracting a younger audience will make the network more attractive to advertisers and sports properties. The average age of Versus viewers dropped from 47 last year to 43 this year. That’s still older than the average age of ESPN viewers at 39.

Versus holds the rights to the National Hockey League, Professional Bull Riders and the Tour de France, but the channel is still fighting perceptions as a niche network stuck deep in the cable channel lineup and viewers’ consciousness. Many open-wheel race fans were so angered by the series’ move, they began calling the network Reversus, signifying a belief that it will take the series backward.

Versus is in 74 million homes and hopes to approach the 96 million homes ESPN and ESPN2 reaches in the next two to four years. Versus is two years into a 10-year plan to be a national sports broadcasting leader. Broadcast industry sources expect Versus to go after NBA, NFL and NASCAR contracts when they come up for bid in the coming years. Much hinges on how Versus does with the IRL and NHL.

Despite a desire to become a 24-7 sports channel, Davis said Versus has little interest in highlight shows and sports newscasts. While Davis said Versus will not be a “me too” network, industry analysts said it would be too expensive to compete on these well-established fronts with the likes of ESPN and Fox Sports.

“We’re not looking to create another Sports Center,” Davis said. “We want to be more innovative and different.”
  • ESPN is starting to become the MTV of cable. MTV started out as all videos and now they do not show any. ESPN is kind of doing the same. There is a lot less actual sports and a lot more sportscasts.

    VS. could do well to fill that niche of showing main stream sports live, but then show the others such as hurling, rugby, etc.... during the day. How many times can you stand to hear about ARod or Derek Jeter, or Ocho Cinco?
  • Sorry, meant the MTV of sports. Of course they are both on cable.
  • Does Jamie Davis realize that the earl's key demo groups are 'death plus 50' and 'morbidly obese bedridden'? :lol:

    If they think the 'league' is going to attract any viewers, much less younger ones, they are in for a rude awakening. That's what anyone who gets in bed with FTG and his 'league' deserves.

    I think the move to ReVersus was grate, it's one more failure of FTG and his minions to point at and laugh.
  • Whether successful or not, I think that Versus' plans for the IRL sound great. Since I, unlike Stan, actually attend IRL races, I can say that the fans are getting younger thanks, in part, to Danica Patrick. I'm not a fan of hers, but she has been good for generating interest in the league. The broadcasts on ESPN have been dismal and it is abundantly clear that ESPN considered IRL the redheaded stepchild of the ESPN broadcast family. Can Versus pull viewers or advertisers? Don't know. Am just looking forward to watching the races I can't attend at the time they're supposed to start, without any timed stops and with coverage that goes outside the period from ladies and gentlemen, start your engines to the checkered. It can only be better than what we've had over the last couple of years.

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