With the Vancouver Olympics less than a year away, Universal Sports is adding nearly 19 million households in 20 markets, increasing the network's distribution to more than 45 million homes.
In most of the new markets including Denver, Portland, Ore., Salt Lake City and Miami, Universal Sports will be carried on the NBC affiliates' digital spectrum. But in several, including Reno, Houston, Wichita and Anchorage, the NBC affiliate opted out and a non-affiliate jumped in.
Originally launched as World Championship Sports Network in October 2006, NBC acquired the network before the Beijing Games last summer. According to CEO Claude Ruibal, Universal Sports has a loyal core audience that follows sports not widely distributed on U.S. television in the years between the pomp of the Olympic Games.
By the time the ski racing season ends in early April, for instance, Universal Sports will have aired 81 World Cup events. The network also will program a substantial number of various sports' Olympic trials leading up to Vancouver 2010.
“Athletes like [speed skaters] Shani Davis and Apolo [Anton] Ohno and [skier] Lindsey Vonn are all appearing with some frequency on Universal Sports,” says Gary Zenkel, president, NBC Olympics. “And these will be the stars for us on NBC during the Vancouver Olympics. Rather than these people all disappearing between the Olympics, they're now very much in front of the U.S. audience.”