For the first time since 2005, all three Triple Crown events in 2011 will be televised on the same network, as NBC announced Feb. 22 it will be home to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes (all gr. I). The deal runs through 2015.
It is the first major deal inked by the network since its purchase by Comcast.
Only the deal between NBC and Churchill Downs for Derby TV coverage had been previously announced. Much of the programming leading up to the three major races will be shown on NBC sister station Versus, which has had the National Hockey League TV rights for the past few seasons.
Derby coverage will begin on Versus the Wednesday before the May 7 race, and Versus will also have pre-race coverage on all three of the race days. It is unclear how much of the three undercards will be televised on Versus, although the Black Eyed Susan Stakes (gr. II) from Pimlico is said to be part of the package. Post-race coverage of the Preakness at Pimlico on May 21 and the June 11 Belmont Stakes from Belmont Park will also be shown on Versus, as will the May 6 Kentucky Oaks (gr. I), which had been shown on NBC’s Bravo channel the past two years. More than 25 hours of Triple Crown coverage will be broadcast. Financial terms of the deals were not disclosed.
“Everyone at NBC Sports Group is delighted that the Triple Crown has been reassembled,” said NBC Sports Group chairman Dick Ebersol in a statement. “We are now positioned to expand the reach of these iconic events with extensive coverage on Versus.”
Tom Chuckas, president and COO of the Maryland Jockey Club, said in a statement, “We are pleased to renew our broadcast partnership with NBC Sports. It allows us the opportunity to reach more than just sports fans.”
Steve Duncker, New York Racing Association chairman, added, “We are thrilled to return our premier race to NBC Sports, which will be a great partner for the Belmont Stakes.
For the previous five years, ABC/ESPN has televised the Belmont Stakes. The New York Racing Association had been dissatisfied with its cut of the action from Triple Crown Productions, which had handled TV rights to the events, after three years in a row when the Belmont earned greater TV ratings than the Derby because War Emblem in 2002, Funny Cide in 2003, and Smarty Jones in 2004 were all vying for the Triple Crown.
NYRA signed a lucrative deal with ABC/ESPN, although over the course of that five-year span, only one horse, Big Brown , entered the Belmont with a chance to win the Triple Crown, and ratings for the Belmont fell accordingly.