Pact covers Vancouver, London Games

ESPN has been awarded the South American broadcast rights, excluding Brazil, for the 2010 winter Olympics in Vancouver and the 2012 summer Olympics in London, the Intl. Olympic Committee said Friday.

The deal, an eye-catching warm-up for the bidding for the lucrative U.S. rights for the 2014 and 2016 Olympics expected to start early next year, marks the first time ESPN has acquired Olympic broadcast rights on its own. The South America deal is worth a reported $10 million.

ABC-ESPN is seen as a likely bidder alongside NBC, Fox and possibly CBS-Time Warner for the U.S. rights when NBC’s deal expires after the 2012 Olympics. Negotiations for the lucrative U.S. rights are expected to begin soon after the Vancouver Olympics end on Feb. 28.

The popularity of Olympics in South America is growing fast after Rio de Janeiro won the rights to host the 2016 Summer Games last month — the first time South America will host the Olympics. The 2014 winter Olympics will be held in Sochi, Russia.

ESPN will take over from the Iberoamericana Television Organization (OTI) group of webs that has broadcast all the summer Olympics to South America since 1992.

“The popularity of the Olympic Games in South America is growing rapidly and we want to ensure that audiences in the region have the best possible broadcast experience,” said Jacques Rogge, topper of the Lausanne-based IOC. “We’re delighted to announce this agreement with ESPN and look forward to working with them.”

ESPN’s Star Sports subsidiary, a cable joint venture between Disney and News Corp., had in the past acquired some rights to show the Vancouver and London Olympics across Asia.

“This agreement expands our relationship with the IOC and adds the Olympic games to the schedule of world-class events we cover,” said Rusself Wolff, topper of ESPN Intl. “The Olympic Games are one of the world’s most inspiring events and we’re very excited to bring it to sports fans around South America.”

The deal includes free-to-air plus pay TV rights in Argentina, all pay TV rights in Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay — and satellite-only rights in Venezuela. Deal doesn’t cover Brazil, where webs already paid $60 million for rights for Vancouver and London.

OTI had paid $29.8 million for the rights, including Brazil, for the Olympics in Turin in 2006 and Beijing in 2008.

The U.S. TV rights are the most important single source of revenue for the IOC. NBC won the rights for the Vancouver and London Olympics with a $2.2 billion bid.

The IOC has already sold the European rights for 2014 and 2016 for $692 million, although separate deals with Germany, Britain and France still have to be signed. The IOC hopes to get $1.2 billion or more from Europe for 2014 and 2016.

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