The winning bid by NBC—and its parent company Comcast Cable—to air the Winter Olympics in 2014 and 2018 and the Summer Olympics in 2016 and 2020 is good news for the IndyCar Series.
Comcast also owns the cable channel, Versus, a fledging sports channel that some day hopes to rival ESPN. The IndyCar Series signed a 10-year deal, which started in 2009, to air its races on Versus.
While there have been complaints that some cable systems don’t carry Versus, and the cable channel doesn’t have the clout to attract casual sports fans to televised IndyCar events, officials for the cable channel have tried to muster a critical mass of programming, including National Hockey League games, that will elevate the channel to a new level.
Still, Versus reaches about 20 million fewer homes than ESPN.
But the Olympics deal could help. Officials for NBC/Comcast, which paid $4.4 billion for the right to air the Olympics through 2020, are promising to use many of their channels to air Olympic events. Although Comcast/NBC hasn’t yet released any broadcast plans for the Olympics, Versus is likely central in those plans.
That means cable systems that don’t already carry the cable channel will likely be looking to add Versus, and sports fans may be enticed to upgrade their cable package to add it. It will certainly funnel numerous fans who already have the channel but don’t currently tune in often over to Versus through promotions on NBC and its Web site during the Olympics seasons.
It’s logical to conclude that all of this will raise the overall profile of Versus as a TV destination for sports fans. And since Versus has a long-term deal with IndyCar in hand, it seems logical that Versus officials would be eager to cross-promote open-wheel racing through its Olympics coverage.
There’s only one fear for the IndyCar Series. The growth of Versus and the continual addition of mainstream sports to its airwaves could diminish the cable channel’s commitment to IndyCar programming and push its telecasts toward the sidelines.
But for now, the upside appears to far outweigh any possible downside.