SBD/Issue 152/Sports Media

USOC, Comcast End Agreement To Launch New Olympic Channel

Sandusky Says USOC, Comcast Have Decided
It Is Not Right Time To Create Olympic Channel

The USOC and Comcast have agreed to walk away from last year’s agreement to launch an Olympic channel, bringing an end to the USOC’s nearly four-year effort to launch its own network. The annulment comes as no surprise. Although the Olympic network was supposed to debut after the Vancouver Games, sources said the USOC and Comcast had not worked on it since last August because of criticism from the IOC and Comcast’s subsequent and pending acquisition of NBC, which operates its own Olympic-style channel in Universal Sports. USOC Chief Communications Officer Patrick Sandusky confirmed the end of the Comcast partnership, saying, “The USOC and Comcast have decided it’s currently not the right time to create an Olympic channel.” Putting the kibosh on the channel is a big step for the USOC, which is focusing on improving its international relations and building the profile of its new leadership team. USOC COO Norman Bellingham, who led the network project, will shift his attention to the basic operations of the organization. The decision to end plans for a network signifies another shift in direction at the USOC under new CEO Scott Blackmun and Chair Larry Probst.

THE LONG AND WINDING ROAD: The organization first made creating a network a top priority in ’06. Former Chair Peter Ueberroth was a major champion of the idea, believing it had the power to attract new sponsors and give existing sponsors a platform to activate against 365 days a year. The USOC between ’06-09 approached everyone from Discovery to ESPN to NBC about the idea before eventually announcing a deal with Comcast last July. Within hours of that announcement, IOC member Richard Carrion blasted the idea and described the USOC as arrogant for pursuing a network without IOC approval. The Comcast and USOC partnership was contingent upon IOC approval, and the USOC’s failure to secure it ultimately derailed the agreement. Currently, Comcast is awaiting government approval of its acquisition of NBC. If that deal is approved, it will acquire a stake in Universal Sports, which already has distribution in 67 million homes and has rights to marquee international competitions such as the FINA World Swimming Championships and the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships. It is unclear if Comcast would be interested in bringing the USOC on as a partner in that channel.

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