NBC laces up U.S. figure skating

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NEW YORK -- NBC Sports announced Monday a multiyear revenue-sharing agreement with U.S. Figure Skating that will put the national championships on NBC's primetime schedule in January.

U.S. Figure Skating had been with ABC Sports/ESPN for 43 years, but the past nine or 10 have been marked with steep ratings declines. ESPN/ABC declined to renew the contract.

U.S. Figure Skating signed a revenue-sharing deal that for the three-year term (through the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver) gives the governing body the revenue from its key sponsor (State Farm) before sharing the remainder with NBC Sports. NBC also gets broadband and high-definition rights.

"This is really a natural fit for us. Figure skating is the most popular sport in the Winter Olympics," NBC Sports & Olympics chairman Dick Ebersol said.

The network will get 10 hours of programming a year, starting with a live two-hour block on Sunday, Oct. 28, from the Skate America event in Reading, Pa. It will continue with seven hours of live coverage from the U.S. Figure Skating Championships on the weekend of Jan. 26-27. That will include men's and women's singles plus pairs and ice dancing. Another hour will be the Exhibition of Champions.

Three of the hours will be in primetime on NBC on Saturday night, Jan. 26, as part of a long block from the event that day. U.S. Figure Skating changed the format of the event, which Ebersol said made it much more attractive for NBC Sports.

Ebersol said that the new weekend scheduling makes it almost a "Final Four" of figure skating. NBC and U.S. Figure Skating also will be able to move the events around.

"It's referred to in another sport as flexible scheduling," Ebersol said, referring to the NFL, which moves late-season games to accommodate NBC's "Sunday Night Football" schedule.

David Michaels, who was the director of figure skating events for NBC's Winter Olympics in 2002 and 2006, will run the coverage for NBC Sports. Ebersol said it would take some time to determine who would be on air but mentioned as possibilities Dick Button, Scott Hamilton and Tom Hammond.
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