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Television network NBC Sports is set to shutter before the end of 2021, leaving a question mark over the way fans will watch the network’s premier cycling property, the Tour de France, as well as a collection of other major races.
The news first broke in SportsBusiness Daily early Friday, and was later confirmed by an internal memo from Pete Bevacqua, Chairman of NBC Sports Group.
NBC Sports currently owns the rights to broadcast the Tour de France in the United States, as well as other races within the portfolio of Tour de France organizer ASO, including the Vuelta a Espana, Paris-Roubaix, Paris-Nice, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, and more. It holds these rights until 2023.
NBC Sports also has a deal with the UCI to broadcast the road world championships.
How will Americans watch the Tour next year?
According to the internal memo, which makes no specific mention of the Tour, “key elements of NBCSN’s programming” will move to the USA Network, owned by NBC, or the company’s streaming service, Peacock, for 2022. Those key elements include major sports like the NHL, NASCAR, and the Premier League. Smaller events in NBC’s portfolio, which includes events like the National Dog Show, will see their rights sold off or may lose coverage entirely. It’s unclear which category cycling falls into.
At the moment, even those working within NBC Sports are unclear what fate lies ahead for Tour de France TV coverage in the US. One source indicated that most stages would likely end up on Peacock, perhaps even on the paid Peacock Premium service, while key stages could end up on a traditional TV broadcast via the NBC or USA networks.
NBC Sports also owns the US rights to sports like the English Premier League, which offers a view into how cycling viewing may work in 2022. Premier League games are available on a mix NBC TV broadcasts or streaming via Peacock and Peacock Premium, depending on the popularity of the match in question. Liverpool games tend to be free; my beloved and beleaguered Wolverhampton Wanderers are generally behind the paywall. A similar system, which sees major Tour stages free-to-air and free-to-stream and almost everything else hidden with Peacock Premium is a likely scenario.
Much of NBC’s existing cycling portfolio, particularly smaller races, has been found on the company’s paid NBC Sports Gold app. That app is getting the ax in favor of Peacock and Peacock Premium.
There is, of course, always the chance that NBC could attempt to resell the cycling rights it currently owns before the contract is up on 2023. How, where, and even whether American fans watch the Tour de France could very easily change overnight.