SBD/December 19, 2011/Media

Mark Lazarus Balancing Job Demands To Build NBC's New Sports Empire

Lazarus is also overseeing Versus' move to become a more viable channel
NBC Sports Group Chair Mark Lazarus is profiled by the N.Y. TIMES' Richard Sandomir, who notes it is Lazarus' job to "build a new sports empire -- not necessarily to compete head-on with ESPN, but to give it a stiff challenge." Lazarus is "blending NBC Sports, which he calls a '350-hour-a-year production boutique' that existed on weekends, except during the Olympics, with the sports properties that Comcast brought along when it took over NBC Universal: the profitable Versus and Golf Channel cable networks and 11 regional sports channels." He said, "NBC Sports has a great heritage and legacy, but it had limitations. The Comcast Sports Group didn’t have that great heritage and legacy. One of the great joys is to create a new group where each side longed for what the other one had." Sandomir notes in his position, Lazarus is also overseeing the "transformation of Versus into a more viable, higher-quality channel that will be renamed the NBC Sports Network on Jan. 2." MLS Commissioner Don Garber said that he "declined to stay at Fox Soccer Channel for more money because Lazarus and other executives convinced him of their vision about the future NBC Sports Network." Lazarus recently said that Versus, which is "anchored by the NHL, must improve markedly to push its number of subscribers to beyond 90 million from 76 million." Sandomir notes Lazarus lacks his predecessor Dick Ebersol’s "swagger but relies on a self-deprecating manner, a business background and his wit to win over converts." Lazarus has "quietly put the Ebersol era behind NBC" (N.Y. TIMES, 12/19).

GOING BEHIND THE NEW TV DEALS: Lazarus appeared on Versus' "CNBC SportsBiz" Friday and discussed the new TV deals the NFL signed with NBC, CBS and Fox last week. The deal will cost NBC $950M annually, but Lazarus indicated that he is "confident the entire NBCUniversal family will make a profit off the investment." He said, "We had a very disciplined approach and we expect that through the life of this deal we will have a profit on the overall outcome of the nine-year window. There's no doubt about it that the financial discipline that is instilled in this company demanded that" (CNBC.com, 12/16). Lazarus added, "There were a few moments where I doubted we'd find the economic path. ... It's a big risk. But we got value for it. We improved our package. Our first reaction was, 'That's a lot of money, and we have to have increased value to make that work'" (SI.com, 12/19).
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