SBD/Issue 44/Events & Attractions

SMT Conference: NBC's Dick Ebersol Sits For One-On-One Discussion

Ebersol Opens SMT Conference
With One-on-One Discussion
NBC Universal Sports & Olympics Chair Dick Ebersol said he was “angry” with the USOC during an opening panel that kicked off the '09 SBJ/SBD FSA Sports Media & Technology Conference. He said the organization was “wrong” to hire an executive search firm to find a new CEO and instead should have funneled that money into supporting athletes or covering travel for its execs to international sports meetings and events. Ebersol said, “My anger is not directed at the Olympic movement. It's not directed at the IOC. I find both of them to be very responsible partners. Over the last decade, I find that the USOC has been a rudderless ship. It has repeatedly hired working CEOs ... to run two sides of the movement, working with federations to develop domestic athletes ... (and) the businessmen to go out to the community because there's not enough money there ... and at the same time they want someone with a diplomatic skill set who can very quickly fit into the world and build a relationship with other countries.” He said there were only four or five people in the U.S. with the job description to become the USOC's new CEO and called on the USOC to interview people who run “large, grassroots sports” organizations for the job. Ebersol: “Right away you'd get someone who understands grassroots sports in this country. ... Get them instead of the guy who ran a washing machine company for the last three years or an insurance executive who had a temper problem.” He said the USOC repeated the same errors over and over and that his position was rooted not in his role at NBC as an Olympic rightsholder but in his passion for the Olympics, which dates back to his time as a researcher at ABC.

MERGE AHEAD? The comments about the USOC were only a small piece of a wide-ranging One-on-One interview that touched on everything from NBC's potential partnership with Comcast to RSNs. On the Comcast/NBC deal that is currently being negotiated, Ebersol said he had to be careful because talks were ongoing. However, he said, “It's clear both companies would like very much to be together. There are still miles to travel down the highway, but for a sweet, innocent 62-year-old boy from Connecticut, I've always quietly worshiped at the statue of the sub-fee. On that part of it, it has appeal to me, as a 62-year-old boy from Connecticut, not as a business executive being paid by NBC and GE.”

LET IT SNOW: Ebersol said he anticipates strong tune-in for the '10 Vancouver Games and pointed to four “charismatic” American athletes as the reason why. Ebersol: “In Lindsey Vonn we have the best female skier in history who just happens to be really photogenic, really smart, a really sweet kid. ... She can be competitive every night, and that will be a great story. You have Apolo Ohno, who's obviously the biggest name going back to the last Games as much for his appearance on 'Dancing with the Stars,' which he won, as for his chance to become the most winning Winter Olympian. You have Shani Davis, a fantastic story, African-American kid, the first ever African-American to win a gold in the Winter Olympics in a solo sport. And then lastly, my kind of favorite in the group, Shaun White. He'll only be involved in snowboarding one day in the Olympics. It's the first Wednesday of the Olympics, and all four of those people I mentioned will be profiled that day and that night.”

Ebersol Discusses Effect From
Rise In Number Of RSNs
GROWTH OF THE RSN: Ebersol pointed to the rise of RSNs as “the biggest single change that affects the lives of all of us.” He said that decades ago people who lived in N.Y., Chicago or L.A. could largely follow their baseball teams on television, but not all 140 games. Today, regional sports channels allow fans to follow their team on a full-time basis. He said, “I believe people watch as much sports today as they did before, but the sports today -- like a track & field, almost all of the sports that were kind of in between -- don't get as much attention as they used to. The main reason is there's only so many hours in the day that you can do something, and with regional sports television, the ability to live your greater sports passion, which is for a team you have a regional local identity with, makes those of us in the national business in some ways enhanced but in other ways troubled.”

LOOKING INTO THE CRYSTAL BALL: In discussing the networks' ability to compete in the future, Ebersol said, “It's clear the advertising marketplace cannot solely support big leagues on the network. There isn't one of us who makes any money on the NFL, but we're comfortable with that because the NFL is our beachfront property that allows us to show off our wares of all the other things we do as a broadcaster. They are things that bind us much closer to our affiliates.” In discussing ESPN's ability to generate annual sub fees for its cable channels and use that money to acquire sports rights, Ebersol told a story from his "SNL" days about musician Paul Simon. He once asked Simon how many concerts he had to play a year to earn a living. Simon said he did not have to play any concerts because at the start of each year he received a royalty check for millions of dollars for the songs he had written. Ebersol: “I never knew that you could begin every year knowing you would make this amount of money. Well, no one in the history of media has ever opened up the new year every year knowing they have $5B sitting over there on the side of the room. So anything ESPN wants, ESPN can have. Now whether that's healthy in the long run for every sports property in America, you decide because at a certain point in time all of us will be out of business and then they'll only be there to deal with everybody. I don't believe the goodness of their heart is better than the goodness of anyone's heart in this room in a situation like that.”

Ebersol Says The NFL's Labor Negotiations
Is Sports Story He Is Most Closely Watching
WHAT HE'S WATCHING: Ebersol said that the sports story he is watching most closely is the ongoing NFL labor negotiations. As a TV outsider, he said he expects next year to be an uncapped year. He added, “The biggest question is what happens in 2011. That would be heartbreaking to anyone who cares about football. Obviously, it's the most popular sport in the United States. It's incredibly healthy on a lot of levels. It would just be really sad, and it would take away NBC's highest-rated show.” Ebersol said he thinks the world of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and said, "No commissioner in history was better prepared for the job.” He said that any room Goodell is in would be made “conducive to doing a deal” because of the commissioner's people skills. In the case of NFLPA Exec Dir DeMaurice Smith, whom Ebersol has met once, he said his job may be the “single most difficult job in America” because late NFLPA Exec Dir Gene Upshaw was so identified with the job and he could make decisions independently because of the players' respect for him. Ebersol added, “I think De Smith is really smart ... but he doesn't have that luxury.”

BRIGHTER DAYS AHEAD: Ebersol said that the economy is beginning to turn around for broadcasters. He noted, "The darkness has passed for those of us who deal in advertising. ... We are starting to see the people most affected by the darkness of the last year plus, the autos, the financial services, these people are starting to come back. That's key.”

Return to top

Related Topics:

Events and Attractions

Video Powered By - Castfire CMS Powered By - Sitecore

Report a Bug