SBJ/June 27 - July 3, 2011/Media

Goal: Versus’ new name on-screen by Jan. 1

NBC executives have not settled on the name they will call Versus, but sources say their goal is to rebrand the channel on-screen by Jan. 1.

A new name, which almost certainly will carry the NBC Sports brand, will be announced in late summer or early fall. The new name should take effect by the start of the year.

The rebranding will not affect NBC Cable Group’s regional sports networks — at least not initially. Former NBC Sports Chairman Dick Ebersol said he wanted to rename the Comcast SportsNet regional sports networks with the NBC Sports name. But sources said Comcast’s brass likes keeping the Comcast brand on the RSNs, which are in markets where Comcast runs cable systems, and that a final decision has not been made on whether the RSNs will be renamed.

Golf Channel also will keep its name, though there has been discussion of incorporating the NBC Sports brand into its title.

When Ebersol left NBCUniversal last month, some believed interest in renaming Versus would wane. Earlier this month, Comcast’s Brian Roberts was noncommittal about a name change, telling CNBC the company was looking at it.

But NBC’s commitment to rename Versus was underscored in Switzerland during its Olympics presentation June 7. The NBC delegation told the International Olympic Committee that it planned to show programming on its 24-hour sports channel, which it called NBC Sports Cable. Executives showed a logo for the channel that featured the NBC Sports logo with cable written underneath.

NBC Sports Cable was just a placeholder, sources said.

NBC Sports marketing executive John Miller is in charge of the rebranding effort. The rebranding effort has been delayed because NBCUniversal’s new leadership wanted to firm up some rights before relaunching the brand, according to sources. Having closed renewals with the NHL and Olympics in the past two months, it is now in position to move forward.

NBC is expected to time any announcement to its signature sports properties. An announcement late this summer could be tied to one-year-out promotions for the 2012 Olympics. A fall announcement could be tied to the start of the NHL season.

If NBC waits until January, it could roll out the new brand around the NHL’s Winter Classic or during the NFL playoffs, building up to its 2012 Super Bowl coverage.

Comcast renamed the channel Versus in fall 2006. It wanted to move away from OLN, previously Outdoor Life Network, and its emphasis on outdoors programming.

Since Comcast’s acquisition of NBC took effect in January, NBC Sports has been sharing resources across its channels. It has used NBC Sports talent on Versus’ hockey telecasts, and vice versa. NBC’s golf coverage has been accompanied by an on-screen logo touting “Golf Channel on NBC.”

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