SBD/May 20, 2011/Media

Comcast Expected To Make Strong Push For Olympics Despite Ebersol's Departure

Rogge says Comcast officials assured him that company was still interested in bid

NBC Sports Group Chair Dick Ebersol's "surprising resignation" Thursday "does not end the network's interest in acquiring U.S. rights to the Olympics after 2012," according to Philip Hersh of the CHICAGO TRIBUNE. Ebersol said, "I think they will be all in. I wouldn't be surprised to see [Comcast Chair & CEO] Brian Roberts lead the group that goes" to Switzerland for the IOC's June 6-7 TV rights auction. Ebersol: "I fully expect with Roberts there they will have a terrific bid." Pilson Communications President Neal Pilson said, "I always felt NBC was the leader in the clubhouse and still do now. They view the Olympics as a franchise" (CHICAGOTRIBUNE.com, 5/19). In L.A., Flint & James confirmed Roberts "plans to fly to Switzerland as part of Comcast's delegation to assure" the IOC that the company "is interested" in the Games (L.A. TIMES, 5/20). Comcast CFO Michael Angelakis "will join" Roberts and Mark Lazarus, who is succeeding Ebersol, in Switzerland (PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS, 5/20). IOC President Jacques Rogge said that he talked to Roberts, NBC Universal President & CEO Steve Burke and NBC Sports President Gary Zenkel after news of Ebersol's resignation broke. Rogge said, "The three reiterated the full support of NBC/Comcast for the Olympic movement and the Olympic Games. They said they would come for the bidding. They ... made it very clear that the resignation of Dick had absolutely nothing to do with the bidding" (HOLLYWOOD REPORTER, 5/20). IOC Finance Commission Chair Richard Carrion on Thursday said, "I just had a call from Brian Roberts reassuring me they are extremely interested in continuing the relationship" (CHICAGOTRIBUNE.com, 5/19). Carrion added, "We’re not crazy about the timing. I’m a little saddened by the news. I can’t tell you I’m happy. Dick is a great friend of the Olympic movement; he understands it, and knows how to tell the stories." Fox Sports Media Group Chair & CEO David Hill said, "I love Dick to death, but I don’t think his absence will make a skerrick of difference. They have a natural leader in Mark Lazarus; he’s smart, savvy and experienced" (N.Y. TIMES, 5/20). Rogge said Ebersol's announcement "was a shock for me." 3WIRESPORTS.com's Alan Abrahamson reported Ebersol "did not call Rogge in advance of the news breaking out to tell him about the resignation." Rogge said that as of Thursday evening, he "had still not spoken to Ebersol" (3WIRESPORTS.com, 5/19).

IMPACT ON THE BIDS: In N.Y., Claire Atkinson writes under the header, "Shocking Ebersol Exit Creates NBC Olympian Choas." The timing of Ebersol's departure "couldn't be worse," as NBCU now is "left without its chief negotiator as it prepares to pitch" the IOC next month (N.Y. POST, 5/20). But CABLEFAX DAILY writes, "Maybe given NBC's $230mln loss on the '10 Games, Comcast is OK being less aggressive on bidding for the '14 and '16 Games." Ebersol's departure "has many expecting it to be more of a showdown between ABC/ESPN and Fox" (CABLEFAX DAILY, 5/20). In L.A., Bill Dwyre writes, "If you are part of the Olympic movement, anywhere in the world, you don't care as much about why as you do about what. It is simple. Your sugar daddy is gone." Former USOC Chief Communications Officer Mike Moran: "This is a severe setback, really a blow to the Olympics. Ebersol leveled the playing field. Now, it's like trying to run the Indy 500 with two flat tires" (L.A. TIMES, 5/20). BUSINESS INSIDER's Dashiell Bennett wrote Ebersol's exit sends a signal that Comcast is "not willing to break the bank." ESPN, on the other hand, "can and will" (BUSINESSINSIDER.com, 5/19). However, if ESPN wins the rights, Pilson "did not think Ebersol would be a good fit to join the network." Pilson: "They have their own talented group of executives" (AROUNDTHERINGS.com, 5/19).  

LORD OF THE RINGS: CNBC's Darren Rovell noted while Ebersol "has accomplished plenty in his career, he will be most remembered for his association with the Olympics." He "was responsible for negotiating every Olympics on NBC from 1996 through 2012" (CNBC.com, 5/19). In Boston, Chad Finn writes, "His legacy at NBC Sports is intertwined with the Olympics more than anything else. ... The way the Olympics are covered is all but certain to change without Ebersol's involvement" (BOSTON GLOBE, 5/20). In L.A., Tom Hoffarth writes Ebersol was the "single-most important figure in NBC Sports' movement to be the network of the Olympics for a span of two decades" (L.A. TIMES, 5/20). DAILY VARIETY's Stuart Levine noted Ebersol's influence at NBC "extended well beyond sports, but he most personifies the network's investment in Olympic rights" (VARIETY.com, 5/19). ESPN's Steve Bunin: "Ebersol's biggest footprint at NBC: Committing billions of dollars to the Olympics" ("Outside The Lines," ESPN, 5/19). In N.Y., Sandomir & Carter write Ebersol followed late ABC News and ABC Sports President Roone Arledge's "lead in personalizing Olympics athletes, believing that viewers would be attracted to stories about competitors from around the world" (N.Y. TIMES, 5/20). The L.A. TIMES' Flint & James write, "A tall and imposing presence, Ebersol rewrote the rules for television sports, paying huge broadcast fees for marquee events and pioneering a drama-heavy narrative version of the Olympics that often set ratings records but also rankled sports purists for its focus on sentimentality rather than the actual competition." Ebersol said, "I was never afraid, I never feared for a job, I never cared what I was paid" (L.A. TIMES, 5/20).

RUN THE TAPE BACK: The CHICAGO TRIBUNE's Hersh noted Ebersol had a "philosophy of delaying broadcast of some events to put them in a prime time package." Ebersol said, "No matter how much anyone was going to moan about that, I was never going to move it. The advertisers don't pay $750,000 for 30 seconds for (part) of the audience. They want it all at one time, not live at 4 a.m. I'm always amused by the ESPN crowd saying, 'If we get them, we will put them on early in the morning.' I always said to my group, 'Just like they put it (the 2010 soccer World Cup) on early in the morning from South Africa and averaged 3 million viewers at same time when Vancouver (2010 Winter) was 24 million and Beijing (2008 Summer) was just shy of 30 million'" (CHICAGOTRIBUNE.com, 5/19). YAHOO SPORTS' Chris Chase wrote under Ebersol, NBC "has stubbornly utilized tape delay to show sports, the anachronistic equivalent of using a rotary phone or VHS machine" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 5/19). The AP's Bauder & Cohen wrote Ebersol has "had a profound effect on what the nation has watched on television since the 1970s -- and his exit could portend big changes in the TV landscape in the next decade" (AP, 5/19).

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