NFL-Versus deal would be huge score for IndyCar

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Many of my colleagues are trumpeting the fact that Versus cable channel will be changing its moniker to NBC Sports Network Jan. 2. NBC and Versus are both majority owned by Comcast Cable, so that makes perfect sense.

And while that’s wonderful, and should provide a little boost to the IndyCar Series—which airs most of its races on Versus—it’s not the biggest news coming out of the network this week. Not by a long shot.

The NFL is in talks with Versus to bring a package of early season Thursday night games to the cable station, possibly as early as 2012. That move would seriously legitimize Versus’ attempts to rival ESPN and put it on the map, and, more importantly, make it more prominent on the cable dial for millions of sports fans nationwide.

That’s news that IndyCar officials and fans should be jumping up and down about. Since the early part of the NFL season overlaps the last part of the IndyCar season, it could open serious cross-promotional opportunities for the series.

That kind of NFL-fueled cross promotion would give IndyCar Series CEO Randy Bernard a lot more juice to trumpet his season-ending gala in Las Vegas, which is scheduled for Oct. 16 this year.

The potential Versus-NFL deal also shows the channel soon to be branded as NBC Sports Network is serious about growing, and bolstering all of its properties.

The NFL package is worth about $700 million annually, according to sources familiar with the deal. Of course, the deal will have a lot of other ramifications on the NFL, Indianapolis Colts and football fans, but that’s a topic for another blog post.

But this isn’t a done deal yet. Turner Broadcasting, which aired NFL games from 1990-97, is also bidding for the eight-game package. Turner wants to air the games on TBS, TNT or truTV.

Fox also is talking with the NFL, and has an interest in putting the games on FX. But there are hurdles for Fox that might make it too expensive to put on FX.

ESPN and Spike TV also have an interest, but  Versus and Turner have emerged as the clear front-runners.

And the roar from the IndyCar paddock is building.


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