After nearly a decade of operation, the ambitious Universal Sports cable channel will shut down on Nov. 16, according to NBC executives who broke the news to some 75 employees during an early morning meeting in Woodland Hills, where the company’s finance and marketing offices are located.
Most of the company’s production is done in Denver after moving there from a facility in Westlake Village.
According to the Sports Business Daily, NBCUniversal, a minority partner in the channel, will transfer the Olympic-related content to its over-the-air NBC channel as well as NBCSN.
InterMedia, a private equity investment firm, has been the 80 percent majority owner of the channel, which has had continual distribution issues.
It was launched as the World Championship Sports Network (WCSN) in 2006 before it was rebranded Universal Sports in 2008.
The focus was on sports that were often highlighted every four years during the Olympics — track and field, gymnastics, marathons, equestrian, speed skating, wrestling, cycling, skiing, beach volleyball and curling.
Rugby was another popular sport on the channel. The Rugby World Cup semifinals will be shown Saturday on NBC as well as Sunday on Universal Sports. The live final on Oct. 31 will go to NBC, with the third-place game on Oct. 30 set for Universal Sports.
The network’s marquee event this weekend is the FIS Alpine Ski World Cup season opener in Soelden, Austria with live coverage Saturday (3:30 a.m.) and Sunday (4:30 a.m.) on the channel as well as live streaming on the website.
“We kept thinking NBC would ride in on the big white horse and save it,” said David Michaels, the Universal Sports executive producer for four years until he left the channel two years ago.
“It’s one of those weird things where, had things happened four years earlier, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Satellite and cable providers were looking for networks, and this was perfect, but then the landscape changed a lot and it was just difficult to keep channels like this one alive. It was great it lasted as long as it did, but it’s just too bad it has to end this way.”
The channel found itself primarily carried by DirecTV and Dish, but with only standard definition signals. Few other cable carriers had it on special sports tiers.
There was some discussion recently that as the USOC, IOC and NBC talked about launching an Olympic Network, the Universal Sports channel would provide the foundation. But that has yet to happen, even as NBC gears up to covering the 2016 Summer Games in Brazil.
“Maybe NBC wasn’t quite ready yet,” said Michaels, who this weekend is overseeing NBC’s coverage of the Skate America figure skating competition in Milwaukee. “But with the huge infrastructure they have in Stamford, Conn., maybe there will be a time when they can start it up and it’ll be an NBC Olympic network.”
An email sent by the NBC Sports Group on Thursday said: “We are thrilled to be finalizing an agreement with Universal Sports that will provide NBCUniversal and NBC Sports with an impressive collection of media rights to some of the world’s most prestigious sporting events. We will have more information regarding our plans when the transaction closes in November.”