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NBCUniversal Strikes Gold With Megawatt Olympics Deal

Inks $7.65 billion deal with IOC; wins rights through 2032

Opening ceremonies in Sochi, Russia, on Feb. 7. Photo: AP Photo/Matt Dunham

In a surprise development, the International Olympic Committee on Wednesday announced that NBCUniversal has secured the media rights to the Olympic Games through 2032.

The agreement, which covers broadcast rights across all media platforms, runs from 2021 to 2032 and is valued at $7.65 billion, plus an additional $100 million signing bonus “to be used for the promotion of the Olympics and Olympic values between 2015 and 2020,” an IOC spokesperson said.

NBCU now has the rights to the next nine Olympics nailed down, winter and summer. The deal comes as a major surprise on the week before the broadcast upfront presentations, as rival media outlets appeared to have been altogether unaware that negotiations were in the works. 

In fact, several sources confirmed that no other networks were so much as invited to bid for the package. This was by design, said IOC president Thomas Bach. “We did not see any reason to take any risks with regard to the broadcasting of the Olympics in the United States,” he said.

Of course, the price was right for the IOC. When broken down by event, the dollar value of the new pact works out to be about a 15 percent premium over the previous NBCU-IOC contract.

“It was a question to find the right balance with the financial commitment, and from the fact that we have signed this agreement today, you can see we have found this balance,” Bach said.

While shutting out the likes of ESPN, Fox and CBS would seem to be shortsighted, the unilateral development is not without precedent. In 2000, then-NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol and NBC president Randy Falco hashed out a covert $1.25 billion deal with former IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch in Goteborg, Sweden, site of the track and field World Championships. (General Electric chairman and CEO Jack Welch, who was at his island retreat on Nantucket at the time—he was recovering from heart surgery—arranged for Ebersol and Falco to be flown in on the company’s Gulfstream IV.)

In a Wednesday news conference, Bach confirmed that NBC’s stewardship of the last several Olympics ruled out any outside bids. “For us, the reliable promotion of the Olympics Games … is key, and this is why we wanted to build on this long-term partnership with NBC,” added Bach. “We can be sure that the Games will be presented in the spirit required.” 

The last time NBCU acquired the rights to broadcast an Olympics package, it faced competition from ESPN and Fox Sports. The Peacock outbid its rivals to the tune of around $1 billion, with a $4.38 billion payout, winning the rights to the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro, the 2018 PyeongChang Games and the 2020 Tokyo Games.

In an internal memo, NBCU CEO Steve Burke characterized today as “one of the most important days in NBCUniversal history,” before adding that it is “truly an honor for [NBCU] to be entrusted with the Olympics every two years.”

Naturally, NBCU is rooting for home-field advantage in the 2024 Summer Games, for which a host city has yet to be assigned. The ratings lift provided by a U.S.-hosted Olympics is staggering; per Nielsen, the 1996 Atlanta Games averaged 33.1 million viewers and a 21.6 HH rating.

Potential stateside bidders for the right to host the 2024 Summer Olympics include Los Angeles, Boston, Dallas and Washington, D.C.

“We certainly would be supportive of a Games in the United States,” said NBC Sports Group chairman Mark Lazarus, before noting that NBC’s previous bids have “never been contingent on location.”

After losing $223 million on its coverage of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, NBCU turned things around in London and eked out a tidy profit in Sochi.

Per NBCU parent Comcast’s first-quarter earnings, NBC’s Sochi coverage generated $846 million in revenue, while the cable networks generated $257 million.

NBC’s coverage of the Sochi Games averaged 21.4 million viewers and a 12.3 household rating, down 11 percent from the 24.4 million viewers/13.8 HH rating it delivered over the course of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

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