NBC Sports Network a new opponent for ESPN

ESPN announcers Rece Davis and Hubert Davis speak on-camera before a game between the Vanderbilt Commodores and the Alabama Crimson Tide on February 10, 2011 in Nashville, Tenn.

Kai Ryssdal: Here's my dirty little secret about working on a holiday: I had the NHL's Winter Classic on NBC on in my office while I was writing the show today. It's the National Hockey League's throwback game and a nod to the olden days of outdoor hockey, Philadelphia Flyers versus the Rangers this year. CNBC's in reruns 'cause of the holiday, in case you're wondering.

But anyway, every 30 seconds or so it seemed Bob Costas and all the rest were talking about the NBC Sports Network that launches today. Not all that long ago, there was really just one choice if you were in the market for all-sports all the time: The Entertainment Sports Programming Network, ESPN in the vernacular.

But NBC's corporate parent Comcast has taken the sports channel Versus and rebranded it to get a piece of the pie. Sally Herships has more.


Sally Herships: Imagine doing business without competition. That's pretty much how ESPN has it.

Larry Gerbrandt: There is no other alternative. So they've been able to raise the rates as high as the market would bear and to some extent beyond that.

Larry Gerbrandt is an analyst with Media Valuation Partners. He says ESPN charges cable companies $4.76 per user. For comparison TNT, which is also considered pricey, is just over a dollar. Gerbrandt says ESPN'S owner, Disney has even talked about raising the rate to $10 a user.

Gerbrandt: No cable operator wants to face their subscribers and say 'I'm sorry ESPN has gotten too expensive, we're not going to carry it anymore.'

Instead, Comcast has decided to create its own sports channel. It helps that it owns NBC which already has Sunday Night Football, the Tour de France and the Olympics. Gerbrandt says sports TV is good business. ESPN makes more money than ABC. But it has a lock on most sports coverage.

So what is NBC planning to show on its new 24/7 sports channel?

Harvey Schiller: If you look at what the various networks of ESPN have, they have plenty of fill.

Fill -- you know: news, talk, analysis. That's Harvey Schiller, former V.P. of sports programming for Turner Broadcasting. He says shows like ESPN's Sportcenter take up a majority of the day.

Schiller: If you add up the actual number of games that they have, it's not that many.

NBC knows it won't have a shot at TV contracts for baseball and basketball for the next few years. But the network says it's already launched two new talk shows and a documentary unit.

In New York, I'm Sally Herships for Marketplace.

About the author

Sally Herships is a regular contributor to Marketplace.

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