The shock resignation of long-serving and high-profile chief of NBC’s Olympics programming Dick Ebersol was announced yesterday, May 19, just weeks before the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is due to award the US broadcast rights to the 2014 and 2016 Games.
Ebersol has headed NBC Sports for the last 22 years but has confirmed that he is stepping down as chairman after failing to agree a new contract with Comcast, which recently completed its takeover of NBC Universal. The revelations come amidst widespread reports that Ebersol had disagreed on various issues with NBC Universal’s new chief executive, Steve Burke, but the departing chairman claimed that he wanted “to make a really cool deal” with Comcast executives but “just couldn’t get to the same place.”
Ebersol added that his resignation came at this time so it would be clear with both Comcast and the IOC that he would no longer be involved with the Olympics. Current NBC Sports executive Mark Lazarus will succeed Ebersol after only being brought in as president of NBC Sports Cable Group earlier this year.
Ebersol spoke of his decision to step down, stating: “It has been a sincere privilege to tell so many remarkable stories that have inspired me throughout my entire career. Some of my favourite memories come from reading letters and talking to viewers who also have been moved by such powerful stories. I simply want to say thank you to all of those people who have touched me so deeply throughout my career.”
NBC has broadcast every Summer Olympics since Ebersol has been in charge, beginning before his arrival in 1988, as well as every Winter Games from 2002. In 2003, NBC paid US$2bn in direct rights fees and parent company General Electric chipped in an extra $200m to sign on as a global Olympic sponsor.
However, with IOC executive board member Richard Carrion finalising the bidding details with interested networks before the June 6-7 TV rights auction in Lausanne, the timing of Ebersol’s departure could have major implications in negotiations for the most lucrative broadcast deal in Olympic history.
IOC president Jacques Rogge stated his shock at Ebersol’s resignation, but added that he had been told his decision had “absolutely nothing to do” with the upcoming Olympic rights tender. Rogge also said he had been assured that NBC would bid for the US Olympic broadcast rights despite Ebersol’s resignation. Rogge went on to praise Ebersol, adding: “Dick Ebersol is a consummate professional and has been instrumental in changing the way that television brought the Olympic Games to US audiences.”
Before the announcement of Ebersol’s resignation on Thursday, IOC chief rights negotiator Carrion told The Associated Press: “I think we will have two, probably three interested parties that come all the way to Lausanne. I think we expect NBC to be coming. We expect ABC-ESPN to be coming. We expect Fox also to be coming.”