Dick Ebersol’s surprise resignation from NBC Sports comes just weeks before NBC/Comcast, ESPN, and FOX will submit their bids for the 2014 & 2016 Olympic Games.There has been talk recently that NBC, Comcast & GE (which still owns 49% of the network) were becoming less and less interested in holding onto the Olympics, which they’ve broadcast since 1988. (They’ve held the Winter Olympics rights since 2002.)
Now, for the first time, ESPN/ABC want to get into the mix, promising to show every event live in the U.S. on one of their many networks. They’ve also got the power of Disney’s worldwide marketing machine in their corner.
FOX is also expected to bid again, but it’s hard to see how they can match ESPN’s multi-platform approach.
With Ebersol – who has covered every Olympiad since 1968 – on board, NBC would have been considered the favourite. They’ve overpaid for nearly every Games this decade, including Vancouver 2010, when they bid $1 billion more than Fox … and ended up with a $230 million loss. Some say the International Olympic Committee owes them.
But the IOC doesn’t care about favours. They care about money. They insisted on the $2 billion figure for 2010 and will want even more this time. They’re prepared to hold NBC over the barrel again, only this time, it doesn’t look like NBC is interested in paying their ransom.
If they were willing to overpay for the Socchi 2014 Games, then there’s no reason why they wouldn’t have overpaid to keep Ebersol too. (The networks already assume the Games in Russia will be a financial bloodbath, but they’re part of the package to get Rio in 2016.)
NBC Sports will still bid for the Olympics, but Ebersol’s departure sends a signal that they’re not willing to break the bank. ESPN can and will. They’ve got more financial wherewithal than any of the broadcast networks and securing the Olympics would be the final notch on their sports TV championship belt.
Even better, once they’ve got the Olympics, ESPN can hire Ebersol to run them. With the new Comcast overlords tired of losing money, NBC Sports will be happy to let them do so.