For years and years, NBC has had the Olympics. Then the network doubled down, obtaining the rights to, among other events, the track and field world championships. Then it tripled down, getting the rights to track and field's global series, what's called the Diamond League.
For the past five years, under the direction of chief executive Max Siegel, USA Track & Field has been building out its own digital presence. It is now far and away, at least as U.S. sports federations go, the digital leader in the Olympic space at its destination, USATF.tv.
The natural — but nonetheless forward-thinking — next step: the direct-to-you livestream “track and field pass” announced Wednesday by NBC. For $69.99, or roughly $7.75 per month from now until December, you get unprecedented access to pretty much every professional track and field event that matters.
Haters are going to hate, sure, but now even the haters are very likely going to be throwing down their $69.99 because, in the American Olympic space, Max Siegel is doing stuff that no one else is. This is the future, people. You want it? Here it is:
The Boston Marathon (this weekend). The London Marathon. The Berlin and Amsterdam Marathons.
The IAAF World Relays from the Bahamas (next weekend).
The highest profile USATF events, including USA vs. the world at the Penn Relays. The Drake Relays. The Pre Classic. The USA Outdoor Championships. All 14 Diamond League stops. All 10 days of the IAAF world championships from London.
Even the USATF Hall of Fame Black Tie & Sneaker Gala in November and the December Jesse Owens Awards.
For that $69.99, you can watch it live and on demand — on your phone, your tablet, your computer. Deep breath: on your Apple iOS, Apple TV, Android, Amazon Fire TV, Chromecast and, of course, at NBCSportsGold.com.
In December, USATF and NBC announced an eight-year partnership. Again, the progression: forward if obvious and natural.
"Never before has so much track and field content been available in such a condensed package," said Adam Schmenk, USATF’s managing director of events and entertainment properties/broadcasting, the executive behind USATF.tv's growth. "Thanks to NBC Gold and USATF.tv, track fans have in store viewing like nothing else."
What makes all of this doubly interesting is Thursday’s announcement after two days of meetings (in London, if you're keeping score) from the IAAF, track’s international governing body. Here is chief executive officer Olivier Gers, saying that the sport’s “product offering is strong” but “may need some repackaging,” the IAAF now “trialling lots of new initiatives” and “looking at different sport presentations and will be having discussions on how we evolve the sport over the next few years.”
Hello? This is one sure way forward. Everyone is on their phones, and pretty much 24/7.
You like track and field. You want to see track and field. You have been complaining seemingly forever that the NFL, NBA and MLB are there for the watching but track and field isn’t. Aren’t you now likely to pay to watch track and field?
Just like if you are a baseball fan and you want to watch baseball?
Soccer and soccer?
More: isn’t this a way as well to test what might work, and not, in terms of reaching new track and field fans? The 2021 world championships are in Eugene. That’s the next tipping point for the sport in the United States with the possibility — stress, possibility — of a Summer Olympics in Los Angeles in 2024 or, perhaps, 2028.
"NBC Sports is committed to serving passionate sports fans and we know track and field fans fit that description," said Portia Archer, the NBC Sports Group vice president in charge of the direct-to-consumer product line. Noting that the "track and field pass" is an extension of the Olympic Channel in the United States, she also called it "perfect for fans who follow track and field and for those beginning to discover it, whether at home or on the go ... no matter what platform they may be using."
Indeed, this initiative comes amid much discussion — see the Bloomberg Businessweek cover story last week on the impact of cord-cutters on ESPN — of how the TV and sports landscape is going to be shaped in the years ahead.
Who else in the U.S. Olympic scene is doing this kind of initiative? (In fairness: NBC also offers a "rugby pass," and a "cycling pass," which includes the Tour de France. Significant American influence in either? It's not 2005 anymore, and we all now know Lance Armstrong used performance-enhancing drugs. Back to reality.)
You want to know why it's Siegel?
Because when he took over a in 2012, this is precisely what Siegel said he was going to do — find new, inventive and creative ways to package and market a sport that needed exactly this kind of jolt.
Siegel can't fix the Diamond League itself. But he can fix the way you watch the Diamond League. Now -- for real -- you can watch it without having to find something called beIN sports. Or knowing somebody's cousin from Slovenia who had hooked up Eurosport on some weird remote cable or computer thingy that required expertise in VPNs, time-shifting and other matters best left to those who operate best in their pajamas under the influence of Doritos and Red Bull.
Siegel said, “We recognized several years ago the fans wanted more track and field content and the way they consume it was changing.
"That’s why we invested in our digital platform to bring more of the sport to our fans in the most accessible way.
“There is no one better at producing and distributing Olympic content than our partner NBC. So,” he said, “expanding our collaborative relationship into the digital space was an easy decision for us.”