Jon Miller, President of Programming, NBC Sports and NBC Sports Network; Rob Hyland, Lead Producer, NBC Sports
Jon Miller and Rob Hyland have a dream to elevate horse racing back to its rightful place as one of America’s most popular sports and they are using their respective talents, to make that happen.
“Horse racing is an underappreciated and undervalued property that we were committed to growing and developing, and restoring to its status as a major sport in this country,” said Miller, president of programing for NBC Sports and NBC Sports Network. “We haven’t stopped, we continue to look for new opportunities, but we’re very pleased with the progress.”
Miller is in charge of acquisitions and has been working to make NBC one-stop shopping when it comes to the sport and its major events. In 2011, NBC united the sport’s Triple Crown on one network by getting the rights back to broadcast the third leg, the Belmont Stakes, from ESPN. In 2012, Miller secured the rights to broadcast the Breeders’ Cup, which also had been on ESPN.
“We wanted to be the exclusive home for the best horse racing in the business, and that’s what we’ve done,” Miller said.
Since then, NBC has added to its coverage, both on its over-the-air network and on NBCSN. Recent additions include coverage of the Royal Ascot in Great Britain, as well as expanded coverage of prep races leading up to the Triple Crown and the Breeders’ Cup.
“In 2011, we had 23 hours of horse racing coverage, and now we’re up to 85,” Miller said.
Ratings have been good (see chart) and Miller credits the passion, commitment, creativity and storytelling of lead producer Hyland as one of the reasons. Hyland has won eight Eclipse Awards, horse racing’s top honor, as well as 18 Sports Emmys, including most recently one for the 2015 Kentucky Derby tease, which was narrated by native Kentuckian Ashley Judd.
“I have worked on horse racing and lived the sport for two decades,” Hyland said. “It’s a sport with great visuals for television and terrific stories, which we love to tell.”
Among the innovations that Hyland has brought to the coverage of horse racing was a “jockey cam” mounted on rider Mike Smith’s helmet at the Breeders’ Cup last fall. In 2017 for NBC’s five-hour Kentucky Derby broadcast, Hyland led the most extensive and comprehensive coverage the network had attempted, with 50 cameras, including cameras on the outriders who escort the victorious horse to the winner’s circle, a camera suspended 80 feet high on the Churchill Downs video board and a robotic camera in the paddock area where horses are saddled for the race.
“I’m currently working with our production team on a bunch of innovations for our  Kentucky Derby coverage related to camera angles and coverage locations,” Hyland said. “We continue to look for ways to bring viewers closer to the action.”
NBC horse racing analysts Randy Moss and Jerry Bailey said that Hyland talks to them all week long, from Monday until the Saturday race, about all aspect of the coverage, from each horse to any possible outcome.
“By the time we go on the air, we’ve already discussed every single item, every single element of the Kentucky Derby show — with Rob,” Moss said. “Rob is amazing. He is very intense, but in a productive way. He cares passionately about putting on the best show possible and he works tirelessly to make that a reality. He also is a horse racing fan.”
Miller said that horse racing has done well on NBC because the network has brought its big event treatment, the same one it brings to the Olympics, the NFL and other major properties. That includes cross-promotion over all of NBC’s platforms, such as the “Today” show, and high-level production. A bet on horse racing is one that has paid off, Miller said.
“We think it’s a very strong sport and getting stronger,” he said. “Those people who predicted horse racing’s demise five or six years ago clearly don’t see what we’ve done and aren’t paying attention to how well it’s doing.”