It's been a good week or so for Versus, which will officially become NBC Sports Network on Jan. 2, 2012.
With a couple of important deal (one moreso than the other), the announcement of some potentially strong programming and the return of legendary Dick Ebersol as an adviser to NBC Sports in general, the soon-to-be re-branded network, the latest all-sports hopeful to someday challenge ESPN, has gained some important traction.
Here's a look at the moves, act-and-react style, in order of importance:
Act: NBC Sports Network signs three-year deal with MLS (beginning in 2012), which complements an existing 10-year agreement with NHL.
React: A decent and necessary move to gain some programming and live game action, something any sports network needs. And they are professional leagues, so it's something. Still, it's hockey and soccer. Think of them as rungs on the sporting step ladder. If something better existed, and a deal could be made, NBC Sports Network would step up if it could. Maybe someday it will. For now, it's a programming and a consistent home network for fans of those sports.
Act: Versus to debut original programing next week.
React: Every network needs some homegrown staples, and it seems like every cable network has at least one such series -- from "Jersey Shore" on MTV to "Pawn Stars" on History Channel and many, many more. A couple of sports-talk/studio shows might not reach that level, but with "NBC SportsTalk" (6 p.m. weeknights) and especially "CNBC Sports Biz: Game On" (7 p.m Fridays) the network might have something worth watching. The NFL show promises Mike Florio and Peter King on Friday nights. Best of all, the sports business show, with Darren Rovell could emerge quickly as must-see sports TV. Rovell ranks as the Evel Knievel or sports business coverage because he basically invented the genre and continually sets the standard. He's aggressive, connected and entertaining enough to make a half-hour show seem short. And, he'll do a good job harnessing social media to add another layer for the show and keep it relevant with certain demographics without, hopefully, alienating others.
Act: NBC Sports announces Dick Ebersol has been retained as a "senior adviser."
React: So much for a divorce or long hiatus. After a separation that started in May over a disagreement with Comcast Corp., which purchased NBC, the legendary sports television executive has returned just in time for the start of the NFL season. He'll work on the big network's "Sunday Night Football" package (including next week's Thursday night opener featuring the New Orleans Saints and Greeen Bay Packers) and will be in London next summer for the "all live" Olympic coverage promised by the network. Maybe it's a bad thing for whoever hoped to emerge from his shadow, but with so much of sports TV business and success based on relationships, it's a huge return for NBC. More importantly, as NBC Sports Network grows and seeks to land the better programming (the NFL) having Ebersol around will certainly help.
Act: Versus/NBC Sports Network reaches agreement with NFL and NFL Films to air weekly "Turning Point" program beginning Sept. 15.
React: Now this is bigger than a deal with the MLS -- by miles. It's even more important than Ebersol's return. That's because the deal gives the all-sports network an presence as an NFL partner. At this point, it's just one show a week, a highlights-based look ahead at the coming week's game on NBC (so it's valuable as cross-promotion, too), but it could certainly set the groundwork for a bigger relationship in the future. With the NFL expected to open bidding on another piece of its TV package, something on cable during the week, that's a property that would attract interest from a channel like NBC Sports Network. So if things go smoothly with "Turning Point" and the talk shows mentioned earlier, that could position the network to get its hands on the most important property in sports television -- the NFL. Weekly shows will air at 10 p.m. Thursdays, and be produced by NFL Films, which means the network will get a high-quality show as well.