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Volume 21 No. 34
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Breeders’ Cup-NBC summer series rides on

NBC has renewed the summer horse racing television series it produces in partnership with the Breeders’ Cup for the next three years, after a year in which the sport enjoyed record ratings on the network.

Financial details of the deal were not disclosed. “It is not a time buy,” said Jon Miller, NBC Sports Group’s president of programming. “It’s more of a joint venture between us and the Breeders’ Cup.”

Next year, the series, “Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series: Win and You’re In,” will be presented by America’s Best Racing and Lane’s End Farm, and will consist of nine telecasts on NBC and NBCSN. It will feature race horses competing for berths in the 2016 Breeders’ Cup championship races.

The challenge series will run from June 11 through Oct. 9 and feature stakes races from six racetracks around the U.S. The Breeders’ Cup will be held Nov. 4-5 at Santa Anita Park in the Los Angeles area.

“It’s excellent summer programming for us; it fills a nice spot on the schedule,” Miller said. “It goes between the Belmont Stakes and the Breeders’ Cup. We have now made horse racing a nine-month property, from March to November.”

The three-year deal is the longest commitment NBC has ever made to the series, which it broadcast in 2014 and 2015.

This year, viewership for the series averaged 936,000, up 136 percent over 2014, and that had a lot to do with NBC’s increased commitment, Miller said. “If you look at other properties in the third quarter, which is where this Challenge Series runs, to find a property increasing by that amount is very rare,” Miller said.

The series was conceived, in part, to keep fans engaged in horse racing between the Triple Crown, which ends in June, and the Breeders’ Cup, which is run in late October or early November. This year, the Breeders’ Cup television ratings were the highest in 20 years, as 4.6 million people tuned in.

The presence of American Pharoah, the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years, boosted the ratings for the Breeders’ Cup and the Challenge Series. Pharoah won one of the races in the series, the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park, and lost another, The Travers at Saratoga. The racehorse ended his career by romping in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

NBC has long-term deals with all three Triple Crown races as well as the Breeders’ Cup, and Miller wants to keep the momentum going. American Pharoah helped the Breeders’ Cup ratings, but so did the Challenge Series, Miller said.

“It showcased a lot of horses,” he said.

Peter Rotondo, Breeders’ Cup vice president of media and entertainment, said the event will work with NBC on a host of new television and digital initiatives to cultivate new fans and drive viewership for the series. “Over the past two years, the series has allowed us to increase our reach, boost our sponsor roster and extend our brand and season from two days to six months,” Rotondo said. “We’re thrilled to renew our deal with NBC Sports.”