- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 25, 2010

Those who aren’t fans of NBC’s Vancouver coverage can take comfort in knowing that the network holds the rights for just one more Olympics, the London 2012 Games.

The bad news for the International Olympic Committee is that according to the SportsBusiness Journal, NBC is probably still the best bet to cover the Sochi 2014 and Rio de Janiero 2016 games — few of NBC’s American competitors seem interested in outbidding the network for those events.

Back in the wake of the Salt Lake City Olympics, NBC plunked down $2.1 billion for the rights to broadcast the Vancouver and London Olympics - nearly 40 percent more than Fox Sports’ bid for the same events — and according to Bloomberg, GE CFO Keith Shernin admitted on a conference call that the network would lose around $250 million on this year’s Winter Olympics thanks to a flat advertising dollar.

And problems could get worse for the next two events: Sochi is eight hours ahead of the Eastern Time Zone while Rio de Janiero poses its own challenges with travel and staging logistics.

Networks might have been more interested if the IOC had chosen Chicago for 2016, but IOC President Jacques Rogge still thinks the broadcast rights will top NBC’s last deal.

AP INTERACTIVE: 2010 Winter Olympic Games

“We had steady increase in the U.S. rights for more than 20 years,” Rogge told SBJ in January. “We made a good jump for 10 and 12, Vancouver and London. We are now negotiating in Europe for 14 and 16 and we see no drop in Europe, so there is no reason why there will be a drop in the United States.”

However, according to SBJ, Fox Sports and CBS declined a chance to hold preliminary meetings with the IOC in Vancouver.

NBC, ESPN and Turner are present, and the expectation is that they are telling the IOC it’s unlikely they will match the figure paid by NBC for the last two Olympics.

With the economy much softer and now with NBC being acquired by Comcast, there doesn’t seem to be as much interest for this pair of Olympic Games.

Former NBC Sports executive Michael Trager, who now works as a sports consultant, told Bloomberg he thought it would be difficult for the IOC to expect the price to keep going up. “It’s hard to perceive that its going to be any quantum leap higher than it is now,” Trager said last month. “These two games are a testament to where its going to be.”

Of course, there will be a few factors at play as well in how much networks are willing to pay.

ESPN could opt to make its first venture into the Olympic games, but with an already packed sports calendar of events - including NCAA and NBA broadcasts during the 2014 Winter Olympics, it would devalue some of the properies the network already owns.

NBC’s future is uncertain with new ownership, but with the losses sustained in Vancouver, it’s hard to imagine the network could justify even matching its current contract.

And TBS could elect to make the Olympics a loss-leader, but clearly, that would relegate the entire event to cable television, which could make the IOC wary since it would hurt the overall ratings for the event. Turner did acquire a portion of CBS’ Olympic coverage in the 1990s, but it seems to be more of a long-shot propsect for Turner to land the rights.

Fox isn’t ruling out a bid, but News Corporation’s Rupert Murdoch seemed to pour water on a potential high bid by telling a conference late last year In spite of all the propaganda and everything — I dont want to call anybody a liar — but no ones ever made any money out of [the Olympics].”

CBS, which broadcast the 1992, 1994 and 1998 Winter Olympics, isn’t expected to be a factor, as the network is reportedly considering opening up the NCAA Tournament to another partner to help defray the costs.

The U.S. television rights are important to the IOC, since it by far is the biggest piece of a global patchwork of television networks relaying the game globally.

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