For the first time since 2006, the USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships will not be televised on NBC as NBC Sports Group has opted instead to broadcast six hours of live coverage on CNBC and the rest across USATF.TV+ and Peacock.
Various athletes voiced their frustrations over the broadcasting decision, which is sure to limit audience reach for a sport that has long pushed for more national coverage.
Sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson was one of the highest-profile critics, saying in a since-deleted Instagram post that “These companies continue to make it HARDER for track and field to have exposure!!! All they want is to continue to exploit sports!!!”
16-time Olympic gold medalist Michael Johnson also shared some harsh critiques, though he put the onus on USA Track & Field (USATF) for not making the event “good for business” enough for NBC.
Companies like NBC make decisions based on sound metrics for business success. Something is telling them televising USATF champs on their terrestrial channels is not good for their business. All organizations have a responsibility to do what’s best for their business. The IOC… https://t.co/GEG3JeHC1Y
— Michael Johnson (@MJGold) July 3, 2023
“Companies like NBC make decisions based on sound metrics for business success,” said Johnson. “Something is telling them televising USATF champs on their terrestrial channels is not good for their business. All organizations have a responsibility to do what’s best for their business. The IOC makes sure the Olympics remain good for NBC’s business. USATF have not insured these championships are good for NBC’s business, despite it being their responsibility to do so.”
For their part, USATF released a statement to LetsRun.com in an attempt to explain how scheduling played a role in why the event is being broadcast on CNBC and Peacock instead of NBC.
“USA Track & Field’s High Performance Team discussed potential dates for this event – based on the windows provided by World Athletics for national federations to hold their National Championships – with elite coaches and the USATF High Performance Division Executive Committee (which includes representatives from the USATF Athletes Advisory Committee), and jointly determined that July 6-9 would be the best dates for this event for optimum performance at both National Championships and World Championships,” reads the statement. “This date created programming conflicts on the NBC broadcast network, including with the U.S. Women’s Open from Pebble Beach. NBC Sports continues to be a trusted partner and exceptional supporter of USA Track & Field. Fans can watch this year’s event on widely distributed CNBC and stream it on Peacock. USATF is also investing in the production infrastructure to stream all events outside of the CNBC window on USATF.tv, making this the first time the entire National Championships will be available live.”
Typically, the championship is held in June and presumably would have been broadcast on NBC had that continued to be the case. However, the two weekends that World Athletics allowed for national championships were July 8-9 and July 29-30, so they had to pick one of them.
NBC is scheduled to broadcast coverage of the U.S. Women’s Open on Saturday and Sunday between 3-9 p.m. ET. Meanwhile, Thursday and Friday primetime coverage will take place on USA Network. That doesn’t leave much room for the track and field event on either network.
The truth is that NBC seemingly has more invested in promoting the U.S. Women’s Open than it does in the USATF Championships. Last year was a huge expansion of that event’s coverage, and to sideline it a year later for any reason would look bad. The ratings for the 2023 U.S. Women’s Open are sure to be bigger than had the USATF Championships been in the same slot. Ultimately, the broadcaster found itself in the land of bad choices.
According to Lets Run, the eight-year media rights agreement between NBC Sports Group and USATF signed in 2016 stipulates at least eight hours of live USATF event coverage on NBC, most of which usually comes from the championship. That won’t be the case in 2023.
“Diehard fans will still find a way to watch the meet — between USATF.TV+, CNBC, and Peacock, every run, jump, and throw of every event at USAs (and the U20 US champs) will be available to stream,” writes Jonathan Gault. “But those people are already track fans. The benefit of having USAs on NBC was that it put the meet in front of an audience that might not otherwise have found it. CNBC is available in far fewer households than NBC; USAs is far more likely to be picked up on a bar or restaurant TV if it’s on NBC as opposed to CNBC. It’s hard to grow the sport when your biggest meet airs on CNBC at 9 p.m. on a Sunday.”