The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race will again have a presence on national television after race organizers signed a deal with the Sportsman Channel.
The agreement, announced Wednesday, makes the Sportsman Channel the official network of the nearly 1,000-mile race from Anchorage to Nome. The race, billed as the world's longest, hasn't had a network deal since 2009.
"I think there's a huge population of people that we hope to reach and connect with, and return them to this idea of what the Iditarod is about, and maybe create a whole new generation of fans," Gavin Harvey, the channel's chief executive officer, told The Associated Press.
The coverage won't be live, but it's still a shot in the arm for the Iditarod, which has been struggling with race sponsors and finances since the downturn in the economy. Both sides declined to discuss terms of the deal, but race executive director Stan Hooley said it would have a "significant monetary impact" on the race.
The outdoor network and its affiliated websites and magazines will promote the race before its March 1 ceremonial start in Anchorage. The race starts for real the next day in Willow, about 50 miles north, for 72 mushers and their sled dog teams. It ends about 10 days later in the old Gold Rush town of Nome, on Alaska's western coast.
About two weeks later, the channel will broadcast 12 hours of "Iditarod Unleashed" programming beginning March 25, recapping the race and featuring a two-hour special, "Why Do They Run?" Besides relying on footage from Iditarod film crews, the channel will supplement with interviews they will conduct before the race and also use historical footage from the Iditarod archive.
Among the 12 hours of programming planned are spotlighting stories of the dogs, individual mushers, the competition, the Alaska wilderness and race history.
The channel intends on "blowing out the event in a way on TV that hasn't been done before, pretty much unprecedented coverage on our end," said Marc Fein, executive vice president of programming and production for the Sportsman Channel.
Hooley said the purse has been growing the past few years after the recession, and it will again this year, from about $650,000 last year to approximately $678,323, even though Hooley said that's not related to the TV deal.
The race winner gets the biggest prize, $50,000 and a new pickup, an award that hasn't increased in the past few years. The next 29 mushers will get paid on a downward sliding scale. After that, mushers finishing the race pick up $1,049.
Promoting the race on the channel and its affiliated media sites could provide benefits in years to come, Hooley said.
"It's a good thing for this event to have a national TV platform again to help grow the race," he said.
The production crew that films the race for the Iditarod Trail Committee will continue to film events for use during the race on the Iditarod subscription website. The Iditarod production company will provide their footage to the Sportsman Channel for later airing.
Sportsman Channel: http://www.thesportsmanchannel.com/