International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge said today that Comcast chairman and CEO Brian Roberts and NBCUniversal bosses Steve Burke and Gary Zenkel have assured him that the resignation of NBC Sports & Olympics president Dick Ebersol does not alter NBC’s plan to bid on the next round of U.S. Olympic broadcast rights next month, a competition that is expected to include ABC/ESPN and Fox. Rogge told the Associated Press that the news of Ebersol’s departure was a “shock,” certainly in part because the move comes less than three weeks before the IOC opens bidding in Laussane, Switzerland, on deals for the 2014 and 2016 Olympics. It’s a process Ebersol has overseen countless times for NBC, which has broadcast every Summer Olympics since 1988 and every Winter Games since 2002. (In 2003, NBC won the current rights package with a $2.2 billion bid to the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics — the network reportedly lost $200 million on that one — and the upcoming 2012 Summer Olympics in London.) “The three reiterated the full support of NBC/Comcast for the Olympic movement and the Olympic Games,” Rogge told AP. “They said they would come for the bidding. They … made it very clear that the resignation of Dick had absolutely nothing to do with the bidding.”
There has speculation that NBCU’s new owners are less bullish on the Olympics after the Vancouver Games lost money for the network — and Rogge must have felt the same way. “Some people will make a link between the moment and the bidding, but [the Comcast executives] … were adamant in saying this had nothing to do with the bidding for the Games, this was a purely internal issue and Dick took a decision and we have to respect it,” he said. Dick Pound, the Canadian IOC committee member who at one time negotiated U.S. TV rights for the Olympics, said he was surprised at the timing of Ebersol’s departure and that it does raise question about Comcast’s commitment. “Is this a sign they weren’t going to bid seriously for the next package?” he asked. “If they come without Ebersol, I guess they just come with a wallet. Who’s going to present this for you? How do you generate any enthusiasm or confidence on the part of the IOC at a time when some of these other networks are making favorable noises?”
NBCUniversal said today that Mark Lazarus, currently president of the NBC Sports Cable Group, will become the new chairman of the NBC Sports Group, effectively replacing Ebersol. This is what he faces on his desk in the morning: The TV rights auction is June 6-7, though the winning bid doesn’t have to be announced right away under IOC rules. Richard Carrion, the IOC executive board member who negotiates U.S. rights, told AP he expected NBC, ESPN and probably Fox to take part but not likely CBS. The 2014 Winter Olympics are in Sochi, Russia, and the 2016 Summer Olympics are in Rio de Janeiro. There also is an option to bid on a four-Games package through 2020 that could push the total into the $4 billion range.