By Nick Butler

NBC's Sports Network will provide large scale coverage of the 2014 and 2016 Paralympic GamesSeptember 24 - The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) has announced that the Sochi 2014 and Rio 2016 Paralympics will receive 116 hours of combined coverage on American television station NBC and its sports network (NBCSN) in a partnership with the United States Olympic Committee (USOC).

It follows worldwide criticism, including from Sir Philip Craven, President of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), of NBC's coverage of London 2012.

Starting with the Opening Ceremony on March 7, there will be 50 hours dedicated to Sochi 2014, including daily coverage of all five sports on the programme, as well as the Closing Ceremony.

Meanwhile, in September 2016, 66 hours of coverage from the Rio Games will be shown, in what is a mammoth increase of 60 hours from that allocated during London 2012.

There will also be live online coverage of both events on the USOC website.

"We are absolutely delighted to announce this two-Games agreement with NBC and the USOC as it provides more airtime of the Paralympics than ever before in the USA," said Sir Philip.

"Following the success of London 2012, we said it was absolutely essential for the growth of the Paralympic Movement and the Paralympic Games that in future years US audiences had a greater opportunity to watch some of the world's best elite athletes in action.

"This is tremendous news for sports fans too, many of which will be able to watch a Paralympic Games live for the first time."

The IPC will be hoping that the huge success of the London 2012 Paralympic Games is repeated in 2014 and 2016The IPC will be hoping that the huge success of the London 2012 Paralympic Games is repeated in 2014 and 2016

Team USA should compete in each of the sports contested at the Sochi Paralympics, with an estimated squad of 75 athletes.

They will be seeking an improvement on their performance at Vancouver 2010, where a team of 50 athletes won 13 medals, including four golds, as they finished fifth overall on the medals table.

Similar improvements will be targeted at Rio 2016 after a 227 strong team won a total of 98 medals in London last year.

Although this success placed them sixth in the medals table, it did show that a discrepancy remains between American success at Paralympic and Olympic Games.

As IPC marketing and commercial director Alexis Schaefer explained, the deal announced today is expected to help to close that gap.
"It is a big step to build the movement in the USA," he told insidethegames

"We now have a strong opportunity to further engage the American community and to create an impulse for getting more people into Paralympic sport at both grassroots and elite levels. 

"The agreement will be particularly for those events which are particularly popular in the USA such as athletics, swimming, ice sledge hockey and alpine skiing.

"However, we hope that this will help put in place more opportunities with all other sports so as to tell the stories of all Paralympic athletes.

"The USOC has been strongly involved in this relationship at every stage.

"They have built a platform and will continue to work very closely with NBC.

"But NBC are not doing this because they have to but because they want to - they want to make a difference in the USA."

Athletes such as alpine skier Tyler Walker will hope to inspire more American interest in the Sochi 2014 GamesAthletes such as alpine skier Tyler Walker will hope to inspire more American interest in the Sochi 2014 Games

Both Sochi 2004 and Rio 2016 are delighted with the announcement.

"We believe that NBC's coverage will further help to achieve this goal and introduce millions more viewers to the excitement of the Paralympic Games," said Sochi 2014 President and chief executive Dmitry Chernyshenko.

This was something that Rio 2016 President Carlos Nuzman also endorsed when expressing his "delight that NBC will broadcast more coverage than ever before in the US."

But it follows the widespread criticism that NBC received for its coverage of the London Games.

Despite containing more coverage than ever before there were no "live" or even "as live" programmes. 

This caused Sir Philip to express his "disappointment for the athletes and for the hundreds of millions of people who live in North America who don't have the opportunity on a very easy basis to access what will be amazing images."

The extended coverage as well as the live online footage announced today is therefore a considerable improvement.

However, it is only the "beginning" according to Schaefer who expects plenty more success to follow.

"In all markets we are getting very positive responses and we believe that this is only the beginning," he explained.

"We have other deals in place such as with Channel 4 and the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) and others under negotiation in Canada, Australia and Latin America.

"We are confident that we will get more coverage than ever before for a Winter Games and to have so many deals already agreed for Rio is fantastic.

"This should also impact on other opportunities related to sponsorship - this is not automatic but it should certainly cultivate more chances."

He also added that London 2012 was a huge reason for the increasing popularity of the Paralympic Movement as he admitted that the IPC has "heard from members and partners that London made a huge difference".

"London was the best games ever and has certainly increased interest with huge impact in the UK and in many other markets," he added.