LAUSANNE, Switzerland - Comcast Corp. locked up the Olympics' U.S. broadcast rights through 2020 by agreeing to pay $4.4 billion for four Olympic Games to be aired on its TV and cable networks, giving a boost to its NBC networks.
The deal preserves a funding level for the Olympics, which lost more than $200 million for NBC in 2010 and may do the same again in 2012.
But Comcast officials say they believe that they can make the Games profitable and that they will hold all the Olympic broadcast rights in the United States for the Internet, wireless phones, TV and even consumer products that aren't on the market yet.
Announced about five hours after Comcast, Fox Sports and the Walt Disney Co. submitted sealed bids at the Olympics headquarters, the Comcast/NBCU deal is the largest in Olympics history and preserves NBC as "America's Olympic Network."
Comcast CEO Brian Roberts, who led his company's delegation in Switzerland, said Tuesday evening that he was "excited to get started. On behalf of my dad and myself, I cannot be more proud."
Emotion factored into the decision on the Olympics bid, Roberts said, but in the final analysis the $4.4 billion bid has "a path to profitability" that he was comfortable with.
"What sports rights haven't gone up?" Roberts asked after the news conference.
According to Olympics officials, Comcast will pay $775 million for the 2014 games, $1.2 billion for the 2016 games, $963 million for the 2018 games and $1.4 billion for the 2020 games. Olympics officials did not disclose the amounts of the competing bids from Fox or Walt Disney, though one was for four games and the other for two.
Two years behind schedule in awarding the broadcasting rights, the Olympics' single-largest source of revenue, Olympics officials were desperately in need of a good deal and got one on Tuesday. They were effusive in their praise for Comcast/NBCU, singing its praises to a global audience.
Olympic president Jacques Rogge said the Comcast deal ensures financial stability for the organization for a decade.
"I would like to say that Olympics is in their DNA," he said.
Richard Carrion, an executive board member of the Olympics who led the negotiations for the rights, said the Comcast/NBCU executives "won the gold medal" in their presentation to Olympics officials on Tuesday. "We were blown away by their passion."
Olympics employees clapped at the conclusion of a 30-minute news conference announcing the deal that was accessible by telephone to U.S. reporters. After the news conference, Comcast/NBCU executives had their photos taken with Olympics officials and then dined with them.
It's hard to overstate how important it was for Comcast to secure the Olympics for NBC, which it acquired through its deal for NBC Universal Inc. That deal closed in January.
NBC has continuously broadcast the Summer Olympics since 1988 in Seoul, South Korea, and the winter Olympics since 2002 in Salt Lake City.
The network's most recent experience with the Olympics has been problematic because of financial losses in 2010 that amounted to about $200 million and expected losses in 2012 for the London Games that could be as high.
But the Olympics is the one franchise that brings consistently high ratings to NBC, and it was important for Comcast to show that it would preserve that programming.
The 2014 winter games will be in Sochi, Russia, and the 2014 games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
The Olympic organization has yet to name the host cities for 2018 and 2020, though it's expected to select the 2018 host city in a meeting in South Africa on July 6 in Durban. The candidates are Annecy, France; Munich; and Pyeongchang, South Korea. The host of the 2020 Olympics will be chosen in 2013, and at the moment Rome is the only official contender.
The news conference, held 8 p.m. Swiss time (2 p.m. Philadelphia time, came at the end of a very busy day at the Olympic headquarters, one that was full of drama and the expectation. The head of the Walt Disney Co., Bob Iger, arrived with a delegation of executives to present its case to Olympic officials around 9 a.m.
"Our assets are unrivaled and now we will keep our fingers crossed," George Bodenheimber, the president of Disney-owned ESPN, told reporters as he departed after the presentation at 10:45 a.m. "We can help the Olympic appeal to younger fans and that's an issue for all sports."
Around noon, Roberts and longtime Olympics host Bob Costas entered the Olympics headquarters to press the Comcast/NBCU bid. Roberts declined comment, smiled and gave a quick military salute on his way up the stairs. With about 15 people, Comcast's group was the largest of the three presenters (Fox Sports gave its overview on Monday).
With the Comcast executives still on the second floor, the Disney and Fox Sports executives entered the Olympics headquarters at 2:30 p.m. to submit formal sealed bids. Iger and Fox Sports' David Hill talked and laughed and walked up the stairs together.
Rogge thanked the U.S. broadcasters and said the funds for the broadcast rights were important for the Olympic movement.
It appears that Costas participated in the event to show the Olympic officials that there would be continuity with the coverage after the resignation of NBC executive Dick Ebersol, whose name at NBC had been synonymous with the Olympics. Some believed that Ebersol's departure less than a month ago could hurt the Comcast/NBCU bid.