SBD/May 23, 2011/Media

Differences With Comcast Played Role In Ebersol's Resignation

Comcast was uncomfortable with Ebersol continuing past role
NBC Sports Group Chair Dick Ebersol resigned Thursday after contract talks collapsed, and Comcast was "unwilling or unprepared to accept his penchant for behaving like a corporate king with the sort of freewheeling portfolio he had under GE," according to Richard Sandomir of the N.Y. TIMES. Ebersol was "admired, followed and sometimes feared within NBC," but Comcast "had no such loyalty to him." A source said that Ebersol over the last few months "could be dismissive, difficult, meddlesome and patronizing." Sandomir wrote Ebersol "overbid dramatically" for the rights to the '10 and '12 Olympics, and he now "will not get a chance to redeem himself." Instead of Ebersol "playing the Olympic maestro in presenting NBC's plan to the IOC next month, it will be his protege," NBC Olympics President and NBC Sports Exec VP/Strategic Partnerships Gary Zenkel, "who disdains the public profile that Ebersol embraced" (N.Y. TIMES, 5/21). In Chicago, Philip Hersh noted if NBC "did not get the rights to future Olympics, Ebersol would not be as valuable to Comcast, especially at a salary price" that was substantial. Ebersol said, "I had a whole new job with suddenly thousands of new employees working for me. Money is not a problem going forward in my life but I sure wanted a certain amount." Ebersol said that he "thought he and Comcast had been close to a deal three weeks ago but 'suddenly it just started getting more complicated'" (CHICAGOTRIBUNE.com, 5/20).

EBERSOL'S LEGACY: In Denver, Dusty Saunders writes Ebersol's resignation "signaled the end of a broadcasting era." He "created a television power base before cable TV and electronic conglomerates began running the sports programming franchises that now dominate our TV and computer screens." Saunders adds, "Don't look for Comcast to produce its version of Dick Ebersol" (DENVER POST, 5/23). In Dallas, Barry Horn wrote Ebersol was a "mover and shaker in the TV sports business, but his greatest legacy may be as an entertainment executive for leading the NBC team that came up with the idea for Saturday Night Live." Ebersol's "sports legacy is NBC's dominance of Olympic coverage during his tenure" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 5/21). SI's Peter King, who works on NBC's "SNF," wrote of Ebersol, "He was a very good boss. A unique boss. ... You'd think the most powerful man in sports television would flex his muscles around the employees sometimes, and I'm sure he did. But Heavy-Handed Ebersol's not the one I ever saw. He was more like a peer than the average boss." King added, "I think what made him good -- and what will make him good again -- is his curiosity. Everything interested him" (SI.com, 5/23).

A WORTHY HEIR TO ARLEDGE: N.Y. Daily News columnist Mike Lupica said Ebersol is the "only real heir to the great Roone Arledge in the history of network sports." Lupica: "If Arledge really invented the Olympics on television, Ebersol brought Roone's template for covering them, including too much on tape-delay. ... So many television executives think they're stars, maybe because of the coverage they get. Dick Ebersol has actually been one" ("The Sports Reporters," ESPN, 5/22). NBC's Bob Costas closed Saturday's Preakness broadcast by paying tribute to Ebersol, saying, "In the history of network TV sports, only his mentor, Roone Arledge, could match Eberol's impact and legacy." Costas: "For those of us who were there through all or most of his tenure, the loss is as much personal as it is professional. Through all the successes and the occasional missteps, through all the shared adventures and the inevitable disagreements, Ebersol -- charismatic, compassionate and at times, confounding -- was a real presence, not just in our careers, but in our lives." NBC's Tom Hammond: "He taught me so much about modern sports television. A friend as well as a boss, and I guess we'll carry on in a way that he will appreciate from here on" ("The Preakness Stakes," NBC, 5/21).

NOT ALL POSITIVE: In N.Y., Phil Mushnick wrote with Ebersol serving the "TV emperor of the Olympics," the Games "no longer existed as a sports and news event, but solely as a primetime, cut-and-past flag-waving melodrama aimed at the easy." The Olympics under Ebersol meant NBC "owning exclusive, first-run rights to events that were 6-12 hours old," and the thrill "was long gone." Mushnick: "That viewers in Ebersol's hands so often never knew that the Olympics, tennis, golf and other events were being shown on tape became a steady feature of NBC Sports." Ebersol also was "responsible" for the XFL, the "biggest embarrassment in sports and primetime TV history" (N.Y. POST, 5/22).

SIGNIFICANT IMPACT ON GOLF: GOLF WORLD's Ron Sirak writes Ebersol's resignation "could have a ripple effect in golf." NBC is "about to embark on negotiations with the PGA Tour for a TV contract to replace the one that expires after next season." It also has "rights to USGA championships ... and the Ryder Cup, which is run by the PGA of America," and "both of those contracts expire after 2014." Sirak writes the question is "whether Comcast will continue to spend for the top-tier golf events, especially if ESPN or another network gets into the mix and drives up the price" (GOLF WORLD MONDAY, 5/23 issue).
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