“Since 2000, no network has carried the Olympics but NBC. But when NBC Universal was bought by Comcast this year, there was doubt that it had the passion for the Olympics that led the network’s former parent, General Electric, to pay billions of dollars to stock NBC with the Summer Games and the Winter Games.
The three competing networks, Fox, ESPN and NBC made their presentations on Monday and Tuesday to nine officials of the Olympic committee, including Jacques Rogge, its president.
But Tuesday, Comcast responded with a knockout bid and a promise that it would show every event live, on television or online, a recognition of the immediacy of technology and a drastic reversal of NBC’s policy of taping sports to show them to the largest possible audience in prime time.
ESPN and Fox Sports also promised to carry everything live, but their bids were dwarfed by NBC’s during an auction held at the International Olympic Committee headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland.
Comcast agreed to pay $4.38 billion for the United States media rights to four Olympics from 2014 to 2020, which eclipsed a $3.4 billion offer from Fox, a division of News Corporation. In an auction that allowed bids for two or four Olympic Games, or both, ESPN, a division of the Walt Disney Company, offered $1.4 billion for the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, and the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Fox also bid $1.5 billion for the 2014 and the 2016 Olympics.
Brian L. Roberts, the chairman and chief executive of Comcast, said that spreading costs over four Olympics was critical to the bid, which was divided in two: $2 billion for the 2014 and 2016 Games, and $2.38 billion for the next two, whose locations have not been selected. NBC paid $2 billion for last year’s Winter Games in Vancouver (and lost $223 million) and next year’s Summer Games in London.
“We’ve said all along that we’d take a disciplined approach, where we could take a path to profitability,” Roberts said in a conference call. “It was responsible.”
Still, Comcast is paying considerably more than Fox to keep the Olympics in the NBC family than General Electric did for the Vancouver and the London Games. Neal Pilson, a former CBS Sports president, said, “I think Brian felt some pressure to validate the merger, and I think this also establishes that, as everyone felt, the Olympics were more important to NBC than they were to any other network.”
ESPN and Fox bid as if they did not feel they had to win the auction. In a statement, ESPN said: “We made a disciplined bid that would have brought tremendous value to the Olympics and would have been profitable for our company. To go any further would not have made good business sense for us.” . . .”