LAUSANNE, Switzerland - The bidding for the next round of Olympics was out of the gates on Monday with the head of Fox Sports, David Hill, saying that "we're doing our pitch" in the lobby of the black-glassed international Olympics headquarters.
Three hours later, Hill exited the meeting between Fox Sports and Olympic officials, declaring that there had been "good karma" in the room and that Fox Sports would bid for the Olympic Games through 2020, or a total of four Olympic Games, in addition to separately bidding for the 2014 and 2016 games.
Hill said he preferred the four games because it would allow the company to pay for its investments in new technology and equipment to produce the games over a longer period of time - eight years instead of four. The Olympic organization has traditionally bid the games in four-year cycles.
Philadelphia-based Comcast Corp., which owns NBC, and the Walt Disney Co., the owner of the ABC and ESPN networks, will present their cases for the Olympic broadcast rights on Tuesday and then the three companies will deliver sealed bids to the Olympic headquarters that afternoon. In a whirlwind of decision-making, a winner could be declared Tuesday evening.
The outcome will determine whether Comcast, the nation's largest media company, retains NBC's Olympics franchise, which extends back to 1988, or whether the mantle of the Olympics network passes to Fox or ESPN/ABC. Comcast bought control of NBC in January when it closed on its deal for NBC Universal Inc.
"I feel confident that what we're proposing will grow the Olympic movement," George Bodenheimer, the president of ESPN, said Monday at the Olympic headquarters. ESPN officials were making a practice run of their Tuesday presentation on Monday at the Olympics headquarters.
The rights auction was delayed for two years because of the weak advertising market in the United States and the uncertainty over Comcast's deal to acquire control of NBC Universal. The mood seemed buoyant and full of expectation at the Olympic headquarters. U.S. broadcast rights are the single largest source of revenue for the Olympics organization, and the funds for those rights help finance stadiums for host cities. The winter 2014 Winter Games will be held in Sochi, Russia; the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro. "We believe the timing is right and it's time to get the show on the road," Timo Lumme, an Olympics managing director overseeing TV rights, said in an interview. "We are looking for a very competitive process."
The auction has added drama because it's the first mega-sports-rights deal for Philadelphia's Comcast as the new owner of NBC, and because of the resignation of legendary NBC executive Dick Ebersol in May. It was believed that Ebersol's personal relationship with Olympics officials could be an advantage for Comcast. Hill tapped into the Ebersol controversy, noting: "I think the Olympic movement owes him a great debt. . . . He could get emotion out of a stone."
Comcast officials have said that NBC sports rights deals have to be profitable, and this attitude may have caused friction with Ebersol. NBC could lose an estimated $500 million on the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver and 2012 Summer Games in London, experts say. Under former corporate parent General Electric, NBC paid a total of $2.2 billion bid for those games, which included a GE corporate sponsorship.
Comcast holds the upper hand in the bidding because of NBC's long association with the games, many industry observers believe. NBC has aired games since 1988. Others, though, note that a conservative Comcast bid offer could be topped by either Fox or Disney, both of which would like to wrest the games away from the rival network.
Hill, chairman and chief executive officer of the Fox Sports Media Group, seemed relaxed as he walked through the white-marbled lobby of the Olympics headquarters shortly before 2 p.m. with a retinue of Fox executives. He was dressed in an open-neck pink-colored shirt and blue blazer.
"It's eight years to the day that we made our last pitch," Hill said to a small group of reporters. Fox Sports offered $1.3 billion in 2003. History had shown, Hill said, that Fox's bid - topped by the $2.2 billion from NBC - was the correct one.
Security was tight for the Fox presentation, with participants surrendering cell phones for the talk.
Comcast and Disney are scheduled for two-hour presentations to Olympics officials on Tuesday morning and early afternoon. The heads of both companies, Comcast's Brian Roberts and Disney's Bob Iger, are expected to participate.
Like Fox, Disney bid and lost in 2003. Its bid was considered a revenue-sharing agreement in which Disney and the Olympics organization would split the advertising and didn't carry a specific dollar figure.
The Olympics organization typically bids two games at a time but this year has told the networks that they could bid on four games.
"Everything is open," Lumme said. "We are only masters of our destiny in that we created the process. They will bid in sealed envelopes and we will react to them when we see them."
Neal Pilson, a former president of CBS Sports, said, "I think Comcast is the leader in the clubhouse and I still do."
Pilson said that Ebersol's sudden resignation in May from NBC and Iger's expected attendance would turn this into a major transaction in the sports business.