US Broadcasters Begin Battle for IOC’s Olympic Rights

June 6, 2011

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) begin meetings with US broadcasters today, June 6, to award an Olympics contract post London 2012 which could be worth more than US$4bn to the body.

Senior IOC member Richard Carrion will lead the negotiations in Lausanne, Switzerland, which were pushed back because of the worldwide economic crisis.

Representatives from News Corp Fox Sports, Walt Disney Co. company ESPN with ABC, and Comcast’s NBC Universal will all be making presentations to the IOC about their proposed Olympic coverage.

A change in strategy has seen the other major US network, CBS, abandon its initial plans to bid in conjunction Time Warner Inc.’s Turner Broadcasting cable unit.

NBC currently hold the rights, having paid US$2.2bn for Vancouver 2010 and London 2012, bidding US$700m more than ESPN and Fox when they were awarded in 2003. They have broadcast every Summer Olympics since Seoul in 1988 and every Winter Games since Salt Lake City in 2002 and will broadcast London 2012. 

However, their planning has been thrown into confusion by former chairman Dick Ebersol’s surprise resignation last month after 22 years at the helm. NBC’s team is now being led by chief executive Steve Burke and Comcast chief executive Brian Robertson.

ESPN’s bid is headed by chief executive George Bodenheimer and Disney head Robert Iger, while Fox Sports will be represented by chairman David Hill, the man who helped launch BSkyB in Britain and was involved in the early negotiations for broadcasting England’s Premier League.

Each bidder is expected to make two-hour presentations behind closed doors to senior IOC members, starting with Fox this afternoon, before ESPN on Tuesday, June 7, morning and NBC later that afternoon, ahead of an expected decision late Tuesday. 

The winning bidder is expected to pay more than US$2bn for the Olympics in Sochi in 2014 and Rio de Janeiro in 2016 and over US$4bn if the deal is extended to also include the Games in 2018 and 2020, which have yet to be awarded by the IOC.

The Unites States Olympic Committee (USOC), with chairman Larry Probst, chief executive Scott Blackmun, general counsel and chief of legal and Government affairs Rana Dershowitz and chief communications officer Patrick Sandusky, have all travelled to Lausanne to be on hand for the negotiations.·The USOC currently receives a 12.75 percent share of US television rights deals. 

Carrion told The Associated Press yesterday, June 5: “We’ve got a full house and I’m hoping for the best.”

Carrion claimed that the departure of Ebersol did not lessen NBC’s determination to retain the rights, even though they lost US$220m on their broadcast from Vancouver last year, adding: “They reiterated that they are extremely interested, and judging from the team they’ve brought here, I take them at their word. 

“It’s just way too important for them. I expect them to play to win. We obviously expect a higher figure [than last year], and that’s it.”