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It could be harder for American cycling fans to watch the Tour de France on traditional television after 2021.
NBC Sports Network, the cable sports channel that carries the lion’s share of live televised Tour de France coverage in the U.S., is set to shutter at the end of 2021.
The news was announced to employees at NBC Sports Network in a memo written by Pete Bevacqua, Chairman of NBC Sports Group, that was seen by VeloNews.
The news was first broken Friday afternoon by John Ourand of the SportsBusiness Daily and SportsBusiness Journal, who reported that distributors and sports leagues have been told by parent company NBC that it plans to shutter NBCSN at the end of 2021.
NBC currently owns the U.S. television rights for the Tour de France in a deal that stretches through 2023. That deal includes the live streaming rights, and NBC plans to continue with its streaming service NBC Sports Gold for the Tour de France and other major races. In 2020 NBC also streamed the race on its live streaming service, Peacock.
According to the memo, NBC Sports Network’s bigger properties, such as NHL, NASCAR, and the English Premier League, would likely move to the USA Network cable channel, while the network’s smaller properties — dog shows, car shows, and motorsports — would need to find new partners for traditional TV broadcast.
Where that leaves the Tour de France is yet to be seen. Bevacqua’s memo made no mention of the Tour de France broadcast.
“At the conclusion of 2021, we have decided that the best strategic next step for our Sports Group and the entire company is to wind down NBCSN completely, with key elements of NBCSN’s programming moving to USA Network and, in some cases, Peacock for 2022 and beyond.,” Bevacqua said.
Joe Flint of The Wall Street Journal tweeted that the Tour de France could be headed to the Peacock streaming service.
NBC Sports Network has been the television home of the Tour de France since 2012, when media giant Comcast acquired a majority stack in NBC Universal and rebranded its own cable sports channel, Versus, as NBC Sports Network. Prior to that, the Tour de France was broadcast on the Outdoor Life Network, which in 2006 was rebranded Versus.
Since 2012, NBC Sports Network has broadcast hundreds of hours of live and tape-delayed coverage of the Tour de France every year, and become the go-to television channel for U.S. cycling fans. NBC Sports Network has also become one of the biggest networks to attend the Tour de France on an annual basis, and prior to 2020 brought between 60-70 staffers to the race each year to help produce the broadcast.
In 2020, NBC Sports carried live coverage of all but two of the 21 Tour de France stages, with stage 5 and 12 being shown on NBC and CNBC, respectively. NBC Sports has also broadcast the Tour’s traditional pre- and post-race shows.
Since 2016 NBC has also steered much of its live Tour de France coverage to its online streaming service, NBC Sports Gold, and in 2020 NBC Sports Gold began steering other live coverage to the network’s new live streaming service, Peacock. In 2018 NBC officials said subscribers to NBC Sports Gold’s cycling pass streamed content to more than 600,000 devices.