Showtime Revs Engines

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Showtime will shift its sports franchise into high gear in 2010 with the debut of a weekly NASCAR highlights and analysis show.

The Feb. 10 launch of Inside NASCAR joins National Football League highlights show Inside the NFL, mixed martial arts events and boxing cards on Showtime's growing sports-programming lineup. While the network isn't looking to be a player in the high-stakes bidding over marquee college and pro-sports packages, it is looking to attract passionate and young sports fans with the most diverse mix of sports programming in its history.

“It's a very competitive space out there,” said Showtime Sports senior vice president and general manager Ken Hershman. “But we feel our lineup is dynamic and has something for all sports fans.”

Once known primarily for its Showtime Championship Boxing franchise in the 1990s, which distributed both live on-air and pay-per-view fights featuring such fighters as Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield and Julio Cesar Chavez, Hershman said the network is now looking to bring more sports fans to the premium service with the mix of programming from popular team and individual sports.

NASCAR is the latest sport to join Showtime's stable. The network's Inside NASCAR series will debut Feb. 10 and will consist of 38 one-hour episodes corresponding with the stock-car circuit's 39-week NASCAR Sprint Cup season. Hershman said adding the most-attended spectator sport will hopefully drive young and dedicated NASCAR viewers to the 15 million-subscriber Showtime service.

“NASCAR is one of the most powerful sports brands in the country, and we are proud to team up with them on our compelling new series,” he said. “We like the demographics of the fan base and the real rabid support those fans have. We think that will help generate Showtime connects in support of the shows.”

The network last year picked up a similar highlights show from the NFL, called Inside the NFL, which Showtime rival premium network HBO dropped in 2008 after airing it for 31 years. Hershman said the show performed well in its second season, but would not reveal specific figures.

Showtime will also continue to bring some in-ring action to its fans through both its StrikeForce mixed martial arts events and its monthly lineup of World Championship Boxing events. Hershman said he's encouraged by the performance of the first round of the network's World Boxing Classic super middleweight round robin tournament, although he would not disclose audience numbers. The tournament features such boxers as Arthur Abraham, Carol Froch, Mikkel Kessler, Andre Ward, Jermaine Taylor and Andre Dirrell.

The second series of matches will begin in March, which will also mark the return of the network's Fight Cam 360 reality series that takes viewers into the training camps of the World Boxing Classic fighters.

“The beauty is that the fighters are proving that the model works,” he said. “These guys all came back and the first-round winners are just as much at risk of losing during this second round, and the first-round losers have the ability to reclaim their place among the top tiers.”

While the network isn't planning any major PPV events in the near future, Hershman hasn't ruled out the possibility of distributing a major pay-per-view boxing or mixed martial arts event in 2010.

“PPV is something that we look at as an opportunistic play and not as a strategy,” he said. “Our strategy is to give our subscribers who pay that monthly subscription fee the best value for the dollar, but there will be some events that are so big and have some real potential on PPV.”

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