NBC, Churchill Downs Extend Kentucky Derby TV Deal

Posted on: Feb 27, 2014

ESPN got out of the horse racing business a few years ago, deciding that the iconic Triple Crown horse races didn’t fit with their ‘dumbed down’ format of poker, competitive eating and 24/7 catch phrase spewing. NBC was quick to benefit from the stupidity of ‘The Worldwide Leader’ by locking up all three Triple Crown races. Now they’ve extended their deal with Churchill Downs to cover the Kentucky Derby. The new deal will keep ‘The Run for the Roses’ at NBA through at least 2025.

The revised deal also includes the televison rights to the Kentucky Oaks along with pre and post race programming on both Oaks and Derby days. The rights will allow NBC to spread coverage through their family of networks as well as online. Under the revised deal–or at least the press release announcing the revised deal–NBC will likely stream the 2014 online.

In 2013 NBC devoted an unprecedented amount of television time to the race. The Kentucky Derby itself aired in a three hour window on NBC. NBC Sports Network began live coverage at Churchill Downs earlier in the day and running for five hours. Assuming the deal is run through completion it means that the Kentucky Derby will be aired on NBC for over 25 years, beginning in 2001.

NBC currently has the broadcast rights to all three Triple Crown races but under three different contracts. At one point the three races tried to sell themselves as a Triple Crown package but that collapsed under the usual infighting and shortsighted bickering that has crippled the horse racing industry in the US. NBC also broadcasts the Breeders’ Cup and will be adding several important Derby prep races.

Churchill Downs officials have tried to emphasize non racing aspects of the Kentucky Derby–a typically shortsighted move that might produce higher short term TV ratings as they focus on celebrities and fancy hats but does nothing to built the sport’s viewership for the future. For whatever reason, Kentucky Derby ratings were up last year. The Kentucky Derby traditionally takes place on the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky. It’s the first race of the Triple Crown and the most watched race among the general public.