SBJ/June 13-19, 2011/Opinion

Comcast pays to play

How we see it

At the end of the day, Comcast needed the Olympics more than ESPN or Fox. That’s probably why its winning bid was nearly $1 billion more than the next highest bid. Did Comcast overpay? We don’t know. You pay what you have to in order to get the rights you need. If Comcast had failed to secure the rights, one could honestly question the long-term ability of this new media giant to be a major factor in sports.

Dick Ebersol may not have been in Lausanne, Switzerland, physically. But he was there in spirit. His people, including an emotional Bob Costas, helped convince the International Olympic Committee that NBC was the right network to support the Olympic movement. Suggestions that Ebersol left Comcast over a disagreement about the Olympic bid look to be wrong. Brian Roberts & Co. ponied up and we can now begin to see the development of the post-Ebersol, Mark Lazarus-led Comcast sports group, one that can build around programming tonnage every two years.

Perhaps most significantly, look for this deal to allow Comcast to drive distribution of Versus (or whatever the network will be called in 2014), which has been stuck in 73 million homes, allowing it to become a much more viable and attractive sports offering. Look for Comcast also to use the Olympics to drive carriage for Golf Channel and other networks and platforms.

Deals like this are good for the sports media business. There is vibrant competition, and no one knows how long this robust sellers market will continue. But if you’re a buyer, the old motto rings true: You pay what you have to in order to get what you need.

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