Negotiations on U.S. television rights to the 1996 Olympics could be postponed until late this year if a delay would mean a richer contract, IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch said yesterday.

Samaranch said he expected the rights for the centennial Games in Atlanta to bring in more than the $ 401 million NBC paid for the U.S. rights to the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona.

However, one network sports executive, requesting anonymity, suggested that Samaranch may actually be “making a public show of confidence” to give the impression that the amount of money may grow when it actually may not.

Atlanta has put a price tag of more than $ 500 million on domestic TV rights, but network officials have publicly scoffed at that and placed their target closer to $ 350 million, excluding cable rights. A cable package could be worth $ 100 million.

Negotiations among the IOC, the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games and the bidding networks remain set for summer or fall of this year, Samaranch said.

But he acknowledged that, with the economy improving, it may be wise to delay the talks and wait for a boom in spending.

The president of ACOG, Billy Payne, said his group was working toward summer negotiations but that a delay would pose no problems if it meant getting more in the end.

Sports insiders think its unlikely that a delay in the bidding will cause the price to soar as the IOC hopes.

Postponing the Olympic bidding process until later this year may also be a move to shift Games solicitation away from other major sports properties coming up. For example, the issue of extending the current football contracts may also surface this summer as will the topic of a new Major League Baseball pact. Up against those negotiations, the Olympics are likely to suffer.

Richard Pound, an IOC board member from Canada, oversees U.S. television rights negotiations. Pound was on vacation and unavailable for comment yesterday. A message left at his Montreal office was not immediately returned.

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