NBC on Thursday confirmed that Dick Ebersol has resigned after steering the network’s sports properties for nearly a quarter-century.
Ebersol stepped down from his post as NBC Sports chairman with 18 months left on a nine-year contract. According to sources who worked alongside Ebersol, the TV veteran could not come to an agreement on a new deal with NBCU/Comcast overlord Steve Burke.
The news shocked the sports media universe, coming on the heels of Ebersol’s jaunty pitch at NBC’s upfront. The 63-year-old seemed to be in a playful mood on Monday, tossing Nerf footballs into the crowd of media buyers huddled near the front of the stage at the Hilton Hotel.
In a heartfelt note to colleagues, Ebersol said he leaves his post with the knowledge that he’s been “fortunate enough to have more deep and meaningful friendships than any man could imagine.” He went on to thank “all of those people who have touched me so deeply throughout my career.”
Stepping in for Ebersol is Mark Lazarus, the former Turner Sports chief who joined Comcast in an advisory capacity two months before the cable operator’s acquisition of NBCU. Lazarus was named president of the NBC Sports Cable Group in February.
Ebersol’s departure casts a shadow over NBC’s upcoming bid for the rights to the 2014 and 2016 Olympic Games. The international sporting event has long been Ebersol’s baby; the exec has produced eight Olympic broadcasts and has negotiated terms of each NBC package going back to the late 1980s, when he acquired the rights to the 1992 Barcelona Games.
As recently as February—two weeks after Comcast named Ebersol chairman of the NBC Sports Group––Burke began undermining talk of a big bid, telling investors, “We’re here to make money, and we’re going to be disciplined.” He added that Comcast’s aim was to “concentrate on businesses that have good returns.”
While it’s a tremendous promotional platform and an undeniable feather in NBC Sports’ cap, the Olympics may be too rich for Comcast’s blood. Despite putting up robust ratings, NBC lost $223 million on the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver—the first time an Ebersol-produced Olympics has failed to generate a profit—and the fiscally sober cable giant may be disinclined to invest in the Sochi and Rio package as a result.
All told, the 2010/2012 package cost $2.2 billion: $1.18 billion for the London games, $820 million for Vancouver, and $200 million that former NBC owner General Electric invested in a global Olympic sponsorship.
None of which suggests that NBC will sit out the bidding process. Comcast CEO Brian Roberts reportedly told the IOC that Comcast will make a competitive offer next month, as the company remains “100 percent committed” to the games. Sealed bids are to be submitted to IOC officials in Lausanne, Switzerland, on June 6 and 7.