Network NBC Will Not Air Live Coverage of USATF Outdoor Championships for First Time Since 2006

For the first time since 2006, NBC will not air live television coverage of the USATF Outdoor Championships. This year’s US championships, which will be held July 6-9 in Eugene, Ore., will still feature six hours of live coverage on CNBC as well as streaming coverage on USATF.TV+ and Peacock. But during the two main TV windows — 9-11 p.m. ET on Saturday and Sunday on CNBC — NBC will instead air reruns of America’s Got Talent.

Under an eight-year media rights agreement signed at the end of 2016, NBC Sports Group owns exclusive media rights to USATF’s “live, elite-athlete competitions through 2024.” That agreement stipulates at least eight hours of live USATF event coverage on the NBC broadcast network.

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In previous years, a significant portion of that obligation would be met at the USATF Outdoor Championships. From 2014 through 2022 (excluding the cancelled 2020 USATF meet and Olympic Trials years, which feature different TV windows), NBC aired a two-hour block of coverage from 4-6 p.m. ET on Saturday at USAs, followed by at least one hour of coverage on Sunday afternoon/evening. In 2023, all of the equivalent coverage will be shown on CNBC (and streamed live on Peacock) instead.

Hayward Field will host USAs for the third straight year

The move is likely to have a significant impact on television viewership of the meet. In 2022, the two hours of TV coverage on the final day of USAs were split between NBC (4-5 p.m. ET) and USA Network (5-6 p.m. ET). The NBC portion drew more than five times as many viewers (1,052,000 versus 208,000, per Rich Perelman).

USATF also changed its schedule in 2023. Typically finals on Saturday and Sunday would be staged between 4-6 p.m. ET but in 2023 they will be held from 9-11 p.m. ET. In each of the past two years, some events on the final day of USAs have been shifted to the morning and/or evening due to hot afternoon weather in Eugene. LetsRun asked USATF whether the change in schedule was related to the meet not being shown on NBC but did not receive a specific response to that question.

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This year during the weekend of USAs, NBC will air the US Women’s Open golf tournament during the 4-6 p.m. ET window on Saturday and Sunday. Last year, that tournament drew 272,000 viewers for third-round coverage on USA Network and 278,000 viewers for fourth-round coverage on USA Network; both rounds had more viewers than the final-day coverage of the 2022 USATF Championships that aired on USA (208,000).

LetsRun.com reached out to both NBC Sports and USATF and was provided with the following statement from USATF:

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. 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.

Quick Take: This is step back for USATF one year after hosting the World Championships

When the US hosted the World Championships last year for the first time, USATF CEO Max Siegel spoke about taking advantage of the six-year window that will culminate with the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles. His goal is to make track & field the fifth-most followed sport in the United States.

And while NBC trumpeted that the 2022 Worlds were the most-watched ever in the United States — 18.7 million total viewers across all platforms — its TV viewership numbers were actually down compared to the 2021 US Olympic Trials.

In the last two years, USATF has created two new meets in major US cities — the LA Grand Prix and NYC Grand Prix — and both meets were shown on NBC this year (the LA meet drew 777,000 viewers, the NYC meet drew 839,000). But the inability to get the 2023 USATF Outdoor Championships — USATF’s biggest meet of the year — on NBC is a colossal failure for USATF and Siegel, who was paid $3.8 million in 2021.

Typically, USAs is held in the last week of June, and had that been the case in 2023, some of the meet likely would have been shown on NBC, replacing its coverage of the NYC Grand Prix. That was not an option for USATF, however: the two weekends set aside by World Athletics for national championships were either July 8-9 or July 29-30. USATF opted for the former.

Surely, USATF would have preferred for USAs to air on NBC — and if track & field were a more popular sport, it surely would have. But ultimately it was NBC’s call whether it wanted to show USAs or the US Women’s Open golf. It chose the golf — which looks like the correct choice based on last year’s ratings for both events.

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. 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.

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