LONDON – The IOC plans to sell the next set of lucrative U.S. Olympic television rights by mid-June, with networks given the option of bidding on two or four games, the IOC's TV negotiator said Wednesday.
In an exclusive interview with The Associated Press, Richard Carrion said he expects three networks to compete for the contract and that the winning fee will surpass the $2 billion that NBC paid for the rights to the 2010 and 2012 Olympics.
Carrion, who heads the International Olympic Committee's finance commission, said he has held preliminary talks with all interested U.S. networks and the bidding contract documents are being finalized.
"We don't know who's in, who's out," he said. "The process should take six, seven weeks. We'll probably crank it up in May."
The networks will then be invited to Lausanne, Switzerland, to make presentations and offer sealed bids.
"I would suspect it'll happen in the second part of June," Carrion said, adding that the goal is to have the deal completed before the IOC meeting in early July in Durban, South Africa.
At stake are the rights to at least two Olympics — the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, and the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. The networks can also make offers on a four-games package including the 2018 and 2020 Olympics, whose sites have not yet been selected.
Carrion said he expects "probably three" networks to come to the auction table.
He declined to say which are likely to make bids, but the contenders are widely expected to include incumbent NBC, ESPN and Fox.
"Everybody has shown interest but we're still in the tire-kicking phase," Carrion said. "Until I see them coming to Lausanne with presentations and envelopes, that's the real test."
Traditionally, the IOC awards the rights for two Olympics at a time, but the networks have expressed interest in the possibility of a four-games deal this time.
"Obviously this is about '14 and '16, but if a bidder wants to make a longer-term commitment and a longer-term deal, we are willing to look at that," Carrion said. "These are always tradeoffs that you make. It will be a minimum of two (games), but it could turn out somebody makes a very compelling bid for four and we take it."
The IOC postponed the U.S. rights negotiations for more than a year because of unfavorable economic conditions, but believes the time is right to strike a deal.
TV rights fees provide the bulk of the IOC's revenue, with the U.S. share accounting for more than half the total. About half the money goes to host cities, with the rest split among the IOC, international federations and national Olympic committees.
In 2003, NBC outbid ESPN and Fox for the 2010 and 2012 rights. NBC paid $2 billion in direct rights fees and parent company General Electric signed on as a global sponsor in a $200 million agreement to bring the total deal to $2.2 billion.
The projected rights fee this time could be greater: If the IOC awards a four-games package, the figure could run between $4 and $5 billion.
"Clearly, our expectation is for it to be higher," Carrion said. "But I don't want to posture. This is not the place. We are obviously expecting higher, but this is for them to figure out.
"This is a unique product. This is a unique event. These guys are serious. They're professionals. They'll do their numbers. Hopefully, we'll have a good result that will be good for both sides."
Carrion said the bidders will sign a document ahead of the auction that ensures a level playing field.
"What is clear and what we've tried to do is to make sure that everybody understands the document we sign will be a common document," he said. "We will not have one-off deals with a particular network. Everybody is expected to sign the same document and then come to Lausanne."
On a separate issue, Carrion praised the U.S. Olympic Committee for its concerted effort to improve relations with the IOC and negotiate a new revenue-sharing agreement.
"I would say it's a new page," he said.
Carrion, a banking executive from Puerto Rico who serves on the IOC executive board, sits on the three-man group that is negotiating with the USOC on the revenue issue that has strained ties for years.
The USOC receives 20 percent of global sponsorship revenues and nearly 13 percent of U.S. broadcast rights deals — figures many international officials consider excessive.
The two sides agreed last year to negotiate a new formula that will take effect in 2020. Carrion said USOC chairman Larry Probst and CEO Scott Blackmun are playing a positive role.
"I was not timid in the past to let know my feelings," Carrion said. "I think they're making a great, great effort. I think the relationship is very, very much improved. There's a desire to get things done."
Carrion said he is optimistic an agreement will be reached but it will take time.
"There's a needle that still needs to get threaded," he said. "Everybody has their own point of view. But I can tell you the tone of the meetings is 100 percent better."