By Karolos Grohmann
BERLIN (Reuters) - NBC Universal beat rivals FOX and ESPN to secure U.S. broadcasting rights to four Olympic Games from 2014 until 2020 in a deal worth $4.38 billion on Tuesday.
"It was very strategically important to have a long relationship and have four more Games and not just two. It was a big part of our strategy," Brian Roberts, Chairman and CEO of Comcast told a conference call.
"The depth of coverage and accessibility to U.S. consumers will never be greater," he said.
NBC Universal, which is controlled by Comcast Corp and has broadcast every summer Olympics since 1988 and every winter edition since 2002, also has the rights until the 2012 summer Games in London.
It acquired the rights for all platforms, including free-to-air television, subscription television, internet and mobile TV, the IOC said.
The 2014 winter Olympics will be held in Sochi, Russia and Rio de Janeiro has been picked to stage the 2016 summer Games.
"We will make every event available, on one platform or another, live," NBC sports chief Mark Lazarus said.
The broadcaster had been criticized for using tape-delay to show some Olympic events on prime time as recently as the Beijing 2008 Olympics and Vancouver 2010 winter Games.
Hosts for the 2018 and 2020 winter and summer editions have yet to be chosen.
"The numbers did enter into it but I will tell you we were blown away by the presentation, the passion that this (NBC) team has for the Games. It was very impressive," the IOC's chief negotiator Richard Carrion said on the call.
"What was very clear was the full four-Games bid, that is what put us over the line," he said.
Carrion said NBC would pay just over $2 billion for the U.S. broadcasting rights for the 2014-2016 Games and about 2.38 billion for the next two Games package.
He said the breakdown per Games would be $775 million for 2014, $1.226 billion for 2016, $963 million for the 2018 Games and $1.418 billion for the 2020 Olympics.
While offers from the rival broadcasters were not released, officials close to the IOC said the ESPN and FOX offers were each well below the $2 billion and $4 billion levels for a two-Games or four-Games package.
IOC chief Jacques Rogge said NBC's Olympic pedigree was vital in the decision.
"I can say the Olympics are really in their (NBC's) DNA. We received three excellent bids. In the end we were most impressed with NBCU, which not only has a track record for broadcasting the Games that speaks for itself, but also has a clear and innovative vision of where it wants to take the broadcast of the Games between now and 2020," he said.
The U.S. TV rights deal is the biggest single source of income for the IOC and this is the first auction since 2003 when NBC paid about $2 billion for the rights to the 2010 and 2012 Olympics.
Fox Sports Media Group chairman David Hill said in a statement: "We congratulate NBC/Comcast and would like to thank President Rogge... for giving us the opportunity to participate in the process, demonstrating how FOX Sports would produce the Olympic Games, provide wide distribution, the largest marketing platform ever and an economic package we believed to be good for the IOC and News Corp."
ESPN, in turn, said they had offered as much money as they thought made sense for such a product.
"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 put our best foot forward with a compelling offer that included the enthusiastic participation of all of The Walt Disney Company's considerable assets."
NBC was awarded the rights weeks after a major shake-up in its sports department.
NBC Sports Group Chairman Dick Ebersol, the chief architect in building NBC's Olympic brand, resigned in late May over a clash with Comcast's Roberts and new NBC Universal Chief Executive Steve Burke.
Ebersol had overseen eight winning bids, and some had speculated that his departure could dent NBC's chances in negotiations with the IOC.
NBC has broadcast a total of 12 Olympic Games, but these will be the first under its new majority owner, Comcast Corp, the largest U.S. cable TV company.
"Showcasing the world's greatest athletes on sport's biggest stage, and reinforcing the universal Olympic values of respect, friendship and excellence, requires large measures of both resources and skills," said United States Olympic Committee CEO Scott Blackmun.
"Anyone who has seen NBC Universal's Olympic programing knows they have the skills, and today they've renewed their commitment."
(Additional reporting by Paul Thomasch in New York and Gene Cherry in Raleigh, North Carolina)
(Writing by Karolos Grohmann; Editing by Ken Ferris and Clare Fallon; To query or comment on this story email email@example.com)