NBC Sports Network will cease operations in 2021

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Ivan Provorov #9 of the Philadelphia Flyers plays the puck against Brad Marchand #63 of the Boston Bruins during the first period in a Round Robin game during the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Playoff at Scotiabank Arena on August 02, 2020 in Toronto, Ontario.

Mark Blinch | National Hockey League | Getty Images

The NBC Sports Network is shutting down.

The network will stop operations by the end of 2021, a person familiar with the plan confirmed to CNBC. NBC will transfer its sports media rights, including the National Hockey League, to USA Network. The person spoke to CNBC on condition of anonymity as the individual isn’t allowed to comment publicly on the matter. Both networks are owned by CNBC parent company NBCUniversal.

The plan to halt operations will allow NBC to attract more reach for its sports content. USA Network is available in 86 million homes, while NBCSN has an estimated 80 million household reach.

NBCUniversal initially hoped NBC Sports Network would be its response to Disney’s ESPN — a cable sports network that could justify high affiliate fees from pay-TV distributors because of its popular sports content. Twenty-first Century Fox developed Fox Sports 1 and CBS introduced CBS Sports Network for similar reasons.

But none of the cable sports networks have ever seriously threatened ESPN, and the media industry’s move toward streaming video has made linear sports networks anachronistic. NBCUniversal is considering shutting down several networks, CNBC reported in October, to consolidate its best assets in fewer networks. Shuttering underperforming cable networks could allow legacy media companies to keep the shrinking cable bundle afloat while maintaining subscription revenue by boosting fees for its existing networks.

The network started in the 1990s as the Outdoor Life Network, then was rebranded to Versus in 2006. Comcast owned the network when it took over NBCUniversal in 2011, and rebranded it as the NBC Sports Network at that time.

NHL playoff games, a selection of NASCAR races, and Premier League content will transfer to USA Network after NBCSN closes.

The Stamford, Connecticut-based network took over NHL rights with a 10-year, $2 billion package in 2011. The agreement runs through the current 2020-21 season.

NBCSN also has a $4.4 billion rights package with NASCAR that expires in 2024 and coming up on its renewal option with European’s soccer Premier League rights (worth roughly $1 billion). The network moved some of those games to NBC’s streaming service, Peacock, last year.

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