Comcast wins Olympics coverage through 2020

Comcast chief Brian L. Roberts in Lausanne, Switzerland, where the cable giant outbid Disney and Fox to win broadcast rights for the 2014, 2016, 2018, and 2020 Olympics for NBC. Roberts called the bid "a path to profitability."
Comcast chief Brian L. Roberts in Lausanne, Switzerland, where the cable giant outbid Disney and Fox to win broadcast rights for the 2014, 2016, 2018, and 2020 Olympics for NBC. Roberts called the bid "a path to profitability." (International Olympic Committee)
Posted: June 08, 2011

LAUSANNE, Switzerland - Any question of how much Comcast Corp. valued new property NBC's reputation as "the Olympics network" was answered here Tuesday: about $4.4 billion.

On a world stage and against powerful rivals, Comcast paid hugely to broadcast the Olympic Games of 2014, 2016, 2018, and 2020. NBC's last Olympics coverage, of the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver, Canada, actually lost $220 million.

The Comcast bid was nearly $1 billion more than Fox Sports, owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. The sports-is-everything ESPN network, owned by deep-pocketed Walt Disney Co., bid $1.4 billion for the rights to broadcast just the Games of 2014 and 2016.

The International Olympics Committee did not announce the values of the losing bids, but the Associated Press reported the specific amounts.

The stunning price paid by Comcast is certain to be second-guessed as too much. Brian L. Roberts, the cable company's chairman and CEO, shrugged off that prospect. Roberts called the $4.382 billion expense "a path to profitability" as it regarded Olympics telecasting.

"What sports rights haven't gone up?" Roberts asked.

The last two days have been expensive for Comcast. On Monday, it paid Blackstone Group about $1 billion to buy out the remaining 50 percent ownership of Universal Orlando and its two theme parks. The deal concluded Comcast's $13 billion purchase of the majority stake in NBCUniversal Inc. from General Electric Co. in January

Roberts also spoke of "a human dimension," meaning staffers at beleaguered NBC, which struggles in the ratings wars with the other major networks. Delivering the winning bid also helped fulfill a pledge Comcast officials made to regulators - of resurrecting NBC - when it sought approval for its acquisition of NBCUniversal Inc.

According to Olympic officials, Comcast will pay $775 million for the 2014 Games, $1.2 billion for the 2016 Games, $963 million for the 2018 Games, and $1.4 billion for the 2020 Games.

ESPN had pledged to cover all Olympics events live. NBC did not make that promise, instead saying that amassing large audiences in prime time remains the top priority. Additionally, officials said, Comcast and NBC together can employ numerous cable channels and websites to transmit Olympics coverage.

The winning bid left top executives of the IOC, headquartered here on the shores of Lake Geneva, speaking in superlatives. The money paid for U.S. television rights is the richest source of income for the IOC.

Jacques Rogge, the IOC's president, said the Comcast deal ensured financial stability for his organization for a decade.

"I would like to say that Olympics is in their DNA," Rogge said of Comcast and NBC.

Richard Carrion, an executive board member of IOC and the head negotiator for television rights, said Comcast/NBC "won the gold medal."

"We were blown away by their passion," Carrion said.

The blockbuster deal - the largest in Olympic history - was announced about five hours after Fox, Disney/ESPN, and Comcast had submitted bids in sealed envelopes. The Comcast delegation of about 15 executives, including NBC president Steve Burke and CFO Michael Angelakis, then went back to its hotel, as did the Fox and Disney teams, to await the decision.

When only the Comcast officials returned to the IOC headquarters, observers knew who was the winning bidder.

The deal includes the Olympic broadcast rights for the Internet, wireless phones, television, and even consumer products that aren't on the market yet, Comcast officials said.

Comcast and NBC executives had their photos taken with Olympics officials, then left for a dinner hosted by the IOC.

The 2014 Winter Games will be held in Sochi, Russia, and the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro. The Olympic organization has yet to name the host cities for 2018 and 2020. (NBC also holds broadcast rights to the 2012 Games in London.)

The 8 p.m. (Swiss time; 2 p.m. in Philadelphia) news conference came at the end of a very busy day at the Olympic headquarters, one that was full of drama and expectation. The head of Disney, Bob Iger, arrived with a delegation of executives to present that company's case to Olympic officials about 9 a.m.

"Our assets are unrivaled, and now we will keep our fingers crossed," George Bodenheimer, the president of ESPN, told reporters as he departed after the presentation. "We can help the Olympics appeal to younger fans, and that's an issue for all sports."

Around noon, Roberts and longtime Olympics host Bob Costas arrived for their presentation. Roberts declined comment, smiled, and gave a quick salute on his way up the stairs. Comcast's group was the largest of the three presenters - Fox Sports gave its overview Monday - with about 15 people.

With the Comcast executives still on the second floor, the Disney and Fox Sports executives entered the Olympics headquarters at 2:30 p.m. to submit formal sealed bids. Iger and Fox Sports boss David Hill talked and laughed and walked up the stairs together.

It appears that Costas participated in the event to show the Olympics officials that there would be continuity with the coverage after the resignation of NBC executive Dick Ebersol, whose name at NBC had been synonymous with the Olympics. Some believed Ebersol's departure would hurt the Comcast/NBC bid.

"I think we had a compelling presentation, and we hope they felt the same way. The rest is business," Costas said on his way out the door to catch a plane to the United States after the Comcast presentation.


Contact staff writer Bob Fernandez at 215-854-5897 or bob.fernandez@phillynews.com.

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