SBD/Issue 87/Sports Media

Ebersol's Admission Of Vancouver Losses Could Hurt His Legacy

Ebersol's Tenure At NBC Has Largely Been
Defined By The Network's Olympics Coverage
NBC Sports & Olympics Chair Dick Ebersol's announcement last week that the network "expects to lose money on the upcoming" Vancouver Olympics was a "costly -- and likely galling -- admission of failure by Ebersol, whose tenure at NBC has been defined by Olympics coverage," according to Jon Weinbach of FANHOUSE.com. Ebersol over the last decade "has trumpeted the appeal and profitability of the Olympics and criticized other networks for what he saw as irresponsible spending on sports-league TV contracts." Many "broadcasting veterans -- both inside and outside 30 Rockefeller Center -- believe Ebersol's statement about potential red ink on Vancouver was a calculated ploy to manage the [IOC's] expectations for the next set of TV deals." Sources said that NBC Universal President & CEO Jeff Zucker recently told several senior execs that he expects the '14 Sochi Games "to be a 'disaster'" financially. But Weinbach wondered if the Vancouver Games "won't be worth the price, then what, exactly, is Ebersol's plan for NBC Sports?" His contract "expires after the 2012 London Olympics," and "going forward, it's not clear that Ebersol's new bosses at Comcast ... will be as eager to indulge his zeal for the Olympics." While Ebersol "has enjoyed a storied career at NBC, his track record over the last decade has been decidedly rockier," as he "has failed miserably on the Internet, as NBC Sports' online efforts have never gained much of a foothold" (FANHOUSE.com, 1/18).

PAYMENT PLAN: AD AGE's Jeremy Mullman writes there is "broad agreement that NBC overpaid" for the Vancouver Games, and that the "astronomic rise of rights fees for the games -- which rose 50% over the previous cycle -- is at an end." Ponturo Management Group CEO Tony Ponturo: "I think this is a franchise where rights fees have outpaced the sponsorship demand. The next several years, there will be extreme accountability for marketing dollars and their ROI. ... This should have some impact as a correction on rights fees that got out of whack, just like housing and other over-appreciated items." Some observers saw Ebersol's comments about losing money on Vancouver "as a negotiating ploy," but the IOC "has responded to that by indicating it may delay bidding on future games." Mullman writes, "Given the myriad signs that point to lackluster financial and ratings performances in Vancouver, it might be wise to wait until the 2012 London games to renew interest" (AD AGE, 1/18 issue).

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