How will the surprise resignation Thursday of NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol shape the bidding for the next Olympics television package, scheduled for June 6-7 in Switzerland? Here's a look at how NBC, Foz, and ESPN/ABC--the three widely cited frontrunners, all of whom entered bids the last time the rights were available in 2003--stand in the first hours of the post-Ebersol era.
Ebersol (right) has produced every summer Olympics since 1988 and every winter Olympics 2002. And while he's not leaving the network until late-June, he told the New York Times' Richard Sandomir that he wouldn't attend the auction in Switzerland. The New York Post reported last month that Comcast was reluctant to bid on the next rights package after the 2010 Vancouver games lost money, and it was causing "friction" between Ebersol and his new bosses. Ebersol denied that to Sandomir, and the IOC has already issued a statement describing Comcast's interest as "firm." In an interview with the Chicago Tribune, Richard Carrion, the IOC member handling the auction, revealed he'd already received a call from Comcast CEO Brian Roberts, "reassuring me they are extremely interested in continuing the relationship."
Vice president of programming John Skipper told advertisers at upfronts this week in New York that ESPN's interest in acquiring the games was "very high." (ABC and ESPN are both owned by Disney.) Joe Flint of the Los Angeles Times said ESPN's ability to offer live coverage of the games, no matter the time zone, would be the centerpiece of its presentation. Earlier this week, Sports Business Daily reported Disney could supplement ESPN's bid by agreeing to to a merchandise licensing partnership with the IOC. With the IOC looking to top the $2.2 billion price fetched by the last rights auction in 2003 and Comcast in cost-cutting mode, Disney's corportate firepower makes ESPN the new frontrunner, argues Business Insider's Dashiell Bennett. "If [Comcast] was willing to overpay for the Socchi 2014 Games," reasons Bennett, "then there's no reason why they wouldn't have overpaid to keep Ebersol too."
Fox bid aggressively in the 2003 auction and will send a representative to Switzerland. Like ESPN, Fox has a litany of cable tentacles that can host live coverage. But unlike General Electric and Disney, News Corp. hasn't shown an interest in going in for a corporate sponsorship. In 2009, Rupert Murdoch questioned the financial upside of broadcasting the Olympics unless they were held in America. "I don't want to call anybody a liar," he told Sandomir, "but no one’s ever made any money out of it."
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