NBC Retains Rights to Broadcast Olympics

A $4B-Plus Bid by the Comcast-Owned Network Wins Games Through Summer 2020

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A change in ownership and the resignation of sports chairman Dick Ebersol did nothing to deter NBC from retaining its title as the "Olympic Network." NBC has broadcast every Summer Olympics since 1988 and every Winter Games since 2002.

Comcast and NBC Universal have won the bidding rights to the next four Olympic Games, according to an Associated Press report out of International Olympic Committee headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland.

NBC was competing against News Corp.'s Fox and Walt Disney Co.'s ESPN and ABC.

The entire package is worth $4.38 billion, NBC Universal said.

NBC bid for the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia; the 2016 Summer Games in Rio; and, in a bit of a gamble, the 2018 Winter Games and 2020 Summer Games even though host cities for those events have yet to be chosen. ESPN/ABC submitted a bid for the 2014 and 2016 Games, and Fox put in separate bids for two and four Olympics.

"I think the relationship with the IOC, the stature of NBC, what they've accomplished with the Olympics, being consistent with their numbers year to year, all that makes the IOC hard-pressed to try somebody new," said John Rowady, president of Chicago-based sports marketing firm Revolution. "This bid tells me the other bids were less, either in dollars or years, and the IOC can't discount the security of this."

NBC's $4 billion-plus bid for all four Games is roughly in line with the $1.1 billion that NBC paid for next year's Summer Games in London. It was Comcast's desire to not overbid for the Olympics, as NBC did eight years ago when General Electric was its parent company and it bid $2.2 billion for the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver and the 2012 Summer Games in London. The network lost $223 million on the Vancouver Games and is expected to lose money on the London Games.

ESPN put out a statement this afternoon, saying: "We made a disciplined bid that would have brought tremendous value to the Olympics and would have been profitable for our company. To go any further would not have made good business sense for us. We wish to congratulate the IOC on a fair and transparent process, and we offer our best wishes to Comcast/NBC. We put our best foot forward with a compelling offer that included the enthusiastic participation of all of The Walt Disney Company's considerable assets."

The bid is something of a coup for NBC, for new sports President Mark Lazarus -- who took over after Mr. Ebersol, the Olympics' biggest cheerleader, resigned last month -- and for Comcast President Brian Roberts.

"All three networks had a reason to bid aggressively, and perhaps even exceed what they stand to make off the Games, because of what having the Games might mean in terms of building audience and brand for each network's family of platforms," said Robert Boland, clinical associate professor of sports management at New York University's Preston Robert Tisch Center. "For Comcast, it maintains the Olympics as a key property and could be used boost its cable channels to a position to compete directly with ESPN in cable sports."

As for how NBC will air the games, Mr. Lazarus, at a press conference, said, "We will make every event available, on one platform or another, live." In the past, NBC has used tape delay for its coverage or, at the very least, moved some key events around as it did in Beijing in 2008, persuading Olympic officials to start the swimming finals with ultra-popular swimmer Michael Phelps at 10 a.m. in China so it could be shown live at 10 p.m. EST.

Mr. Rowady also believes NBC's faith in submitting a bid for four Olympics, even though the 2018 and 2020 host cities have yet to be chosen, might help convince the U.S. Olympic Committee to take another crack at putting in a host bid after the devastating -- and some say politically motivated -- loss that Chicago suffered to Rio in the bid for the 2016 Games.

"I have no doubt that NBC would like to leave its stretch of coverage with another U.S. Games," he said. "There's a decent correlation that certainly buys enough time for the U.S., maybe even Chicago again, to make a run at it."

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