By all accounts, the Comcast/NBC merger that begat the rebirth of Versus as NBC Sports Network has provided the best chance for a competitor to ESPN on the sports media landscape. With the resources on offer under the umbrella of Comcast and the prestige of the NBC brand, there was no reason to believe NBC Sports Network wouldn't at least have a chance at nipping at ESPN's heels in short order. Though NBC contends they are still getting their house in order and have seen success with the NHL, they are still years away from being a true contender.
However, that didn't stop ESPN president John Skipper from commenting on the new NBC Sports Network. It's interesting that Skipper's remarks, made at the upfront presentation by the network this week in New York, mark the first real acknowledgement from ESPN that NBCSN at least has the potential to be a contender to ESPN. Granted, most of Skipper's comments are an outright dismissal of where NBCSN is currently compared to the WorldWide Leader. The entirety of Skipper's remarks found in Richard Deitsch's SI media column are worth reading, but these regarding NBC stood out:
We know those guys. They have significant resources and smart folks there. They have platforms, so we have a lot of respect for what they do, and we of course pay attention. However, we've been doing this for 32 years and I do think there's a little too much respect paid to the great brand names. Everybody sort of assumes, 'Oh, my gosh, NBC is going to a 24/7 network and it's a two-horse race." But they don't look like we look. You guys saw all the stuff today -- mobile, Internet. We have more viewers in an average minute on ESPN mobile than they have on NBC Sports Network.
Wow, those are pretty strong comments from Skipper. NBC didn't take the comments passively and responded to USA Today by taking a shot at ESPN's exorbitant subscriber fees and touting the value of their product:
"The NBC Sports Group brands are among the most powerful brands in sports. We don't look like anyone else and we're very proud of that fact. They've been at this a long time and at a significantly higher cost to consumers," Hughes said. "Our audience and market share are increasing as evidenced by the NHL playoffs and at great value to our viewers."
While NBC did respond, Skipper's initial comments have raised more eyebrows. It's interesting just how candid the head of ESPN is in (1) acknowledging the hope that NBCSN could develop into a competitor and (2) downright bragging about the gap that currently exists between the two networks.