NEW YORK — The cable channel with three names in 5½ years is getting its new identity from one of the most recognizable brands in sports broadcasting.
Once Outdoor Life Network, now Versus, it will become NBC Sports Network on Monday.
What's in a name? Linking the channel to such a known quantity could make an impact as simple as encouraging cable companies to stick it in a more high-profile spot on the dial.
"In some areas we're not easy to find," NBC Sports Group Chairman Mark Lazarus told The Associated Press. "But we think we will give more value to distributors by having that."
The channel's parent company, Comcast, took over NBCUniversal in January 2011, and the peacock's imprint quickly appeared on Versus. NBC announcers, NBC production, NBC cross-promotions.
Monday was chosen as a natural fit for the name change because that's when the NHL Winter Classic airs on NBC, offering plenty of opportunities to trumpet the switch. Versus' biggest sports property is hockey, with the Comcast-NBC merger putting both of the NHL's U.S. national contracts under the same company.
At 4 p.m. EST, the new name will become official with the Winter Classic postgame show on the cable channel. Next come examples of the new programming NBC has added on Versus: a documentary from former HBO Sports President Ross Greenburg about the 1972 Summit Series pitting Canadian and Soviet hockey teams and the studio show "NBC SportsTalk."
Lazarus hopes the familiarity of the NBC Sports name will lend the network credibility with potential viewers. But the biggest audience growth will come from adding more live sports, and that's not as instantaneous as a logo change.
"This is a five-year plan," Lazarus said. "This is going to take time."
NBC signed a deal with Major League Soccer earlier this year that will put games on the cable channel that first became known for its Tour de France coverage. But most other contracts for high-profile sports are at least a couple of years from expiring.
The soon-to-be NBC Sports Network is in about two-thirds of American homes with televisions, compared with around 86 percent for the behemoth of all-sports channels, ESPN. Also coming to NBC Sports Network is MLS, with 38 regular-season games.