Published November 20, 2014
Once again, money talked and NBC walked away with the Olympic prize.
The three-way contest for U.S. Olympic television rights wasn't even close — NBC blew ESPN and Fox out of the water with a $4.38 billion bid to keep the Olympics on the peacock network through 2020 in a new four-games deal with the IOC.
"I can say the Olympics are really in their DNA," International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge said at Tuesday's announcement. "We've been together with them for so many games with great success."
The knockout blow by NBC defied recent speculation that the incumbent's 20-year grip on the Olympics was coming to an end, that new parent company Comcast was less interested in committing to the games and that its chances were severely dented by last month's sudden resignation of longtime sports and Olympics chief Dick Ebersol.
NBC, which has broadcast every Summer Olympics since 1988 and every Winter Games since 2002, parlayed its track record and familiarity with the IOC — as well as its money — to win over the Olympic body again.
"You think definitely of the finances, but you think also of the past experiences, you think of the enthusiasm of the team, the technical qualities," Rogge said. "We thought that was the best combination."
Executives with direct knowledge of the proposals told The Associated Press that Fox bid $3.4 billion for four games and $1.5 billion for two, while ESPN offered $1.4 billion for two. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the IOC declined to say how much the other networks offered.
NBC has exclusive rights to the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, and the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, as well as the 2018 Winter Games and 2020 Olympics, whose sites have not yet been chosen. The deal includes all broadcast platforms, including Internet, mobile and hand-held devices.
IOC TV rights negotiator Richard Carrion said NBC would pay $775 million for Sochi, $1.226 billion for Rio, $963 million for the 2018 Winter Games and $1.418 billion for the 2020 Summer Olympics.
"This secures the financial future for the next decade of the Olympic movement," Rogge said.
In the previous rights auction in 2003, NBC outbid Fox and ESPN to secure the 2010 and 2012 Olympics in a deal worth $2.2 billion. That included $2 billion in straight rights fees, plus a $200 million global sponsorship deal with NBC's former parent company, General Electric.
The IOC had said it hoped to exceed that deal this time, and it did — slightly. The $4.382 billion figure for four games represents a small increase only in rights fees compared with the previous two-games package. Carrion said the IOC still hopes to reach a separate extension with GE as a top-tier sponsor.
NBC has been criticized for not showing Olympic events live and packaging its coverage on tape delay for prime-time audiences. New sports chairman Mark Lazarus said the network would offer new options to follow everything live on its various platforms.
"We will make every event available — on one platform or another — live," he said. "It is for television. It is for tablet. It is for mobile. It is for broadband. It is for every now-known or to-be-known or still-to-be-concenived set of rights. It's all encompassing."
Lazarus said NBC plans to air more live coverage of the Rio Games because of the similar time zone to the East Coast. Sochi, in southern Russia, is in an unfavorable time zone for live U.S. coverage.
"Going forward, we have a smart plan that will allow the super fan to watch events live and not detract from the prime-time audience when we are in host cities that time zones make it difficult to be live in prime time," Lazarus said.
Three weeks ago, NBC's Olympic future looked shaky after Ebersol, who led its coverage for two decades, quit after what he said was a contract dispute with Comcast, which took control in January. Yet, NBC pushed forward under Comcast CEO Brian Roberts and Lazarus.
Doubts were also raised whether Comcast would put up big money after NBC lost more than $200 million on the 2010 Vancouver Games and projections of a similar hit on next year's London Olympics. But executives made clear Tuesday they expect to make money on the future games.
"We think this will be a profitable relationship," Roberts said. "I believe we will be profitable and build value for our shareholders."
Traditionally, the IOC awards the rights for two games at a time, but the networks expressed interest in going for a four-games package. They did so without knowing where the last two will be held. The IOC will select the 2018 host city on July 6. The candidates are Annecy, France; Munich; and Pyeongchang, South Korea. The host of the 2020 Olympics will be chosen in 2013, and Rome is the only official contender so far.
"What was very important was the four-games bid," Carrion said. "That is what put us over the line."
Beyond the money and long-term nature of the deal was the powerful impact that Bob Costas — the familiar face of NBC's Olympic coverage — and the rest of the 17-person delegation made in a two-hour closed-door presentation to the IOC. They played on the emotional aspect, including a tear-jerking video about the network's love and dedication for the games.
"We were blown away by the presentation," Carrion said. "The passion that this team has for the Olympic Games was very impressive and very evident to all of us. ... I'd be less than honest if I said the numbers didn't come into play. It was all of it.
"Even Bob Costas made a very emotional appeal."
Costas, who has hosted NBC's coverage of eight Olympics, said: "My message was, 'we've done it well and we'd like to do it again.'"
Executives of the three networks dropped envelopes with sealed bids into a clear plastic box. The IOC deliberated in private for about three hours before settling on NBC.
"I'm bitterly disappointed," Fox sports chairman David Hill said.
ESPN had played up the potential impact of parent company Disney, including its appeal to a young audience.
"To go any further would not have made good business sense for us," ESPN said in a statement. "We put our best foot forward with a compelling offer that included the enthusiastic participation of all of The Walt Disney Co.'s considerable assets."
Present at the TV bidding were U.S. Olympic Committee chairman Larry Probst and CEO Scott Blackmun.
The USOC gets a 12.75 percent share of U.S. TV rights deals and 20 percent of global sponsorship revenues, figures many international officials consider too high. Both sides are negotiating a new revenue-sharing deal to take effect in 2020.
The USOC and IOC will renew those talks Wednesday, and say they also hope to have an agreement in place by early July.
The previous time NBC bid, New York was in the running for the 2012 Olympics, which it eventually lost to London. Chicago then failed in a bid for the 2016 Games. NBC is putting up the money without any U.S. city currently in contention to host a games.
With the deadline for 2020 candidacies set for September, the USOC has not announced any plans for a bid.
"If there is a bid coming in 2020 from the United States of America, we would be very happy," Rogge said.
AP Sports Writer Chris Lehourites contributed to this report.
Stephen Wilson can be followed at http://twitter.com/stevewilsonap