Sports chief says net will make strong play for Games

Fox, the only Big Four network never to have aired the Olympics, is set to take a major run at landing the Games.

While the exact timetable for bidding on TV rights to future Games isn’t set, sports-minded broadcast and cable nets are anxiously thinking about the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, and the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Bidding for both — nets can choose to package their bids for multiple Games — is likely to begin in the fall.

“If I were the (International Olympic Committee), I would open the bidding in October and November,” Fox Sports topper David Hill told Daily Variety .

Fox did make a bid for the 2010 Vancouver Games and 2012 summer games in London, but NBC prevailed in those auctions. The London Games are the last covered by the Peacock’s current pact with the IOC.

NBC Universal’s bid of approximately $2.2 billion for 2010 and 2012 was well above the bid put together by ABC/ESPN ($1.6 billion) and Fox ($1.3 billion). NBC absorbed a $200 million or so loss on the Vancouver Games, though strong ratings helped offset even deeper losses. NBC U’s recent experience hasn’t dampened any of Fox’s enthusiasm to have those prestigious rings on its air.

“It’s one of those greats things to have. It’s an iconic event,” Hill said. “We will make a strong bid next time around. Last time, our bid was under NBC’s bid, but we did what we thought was right for us.”

NBC U took criticism from some viewers for delaying the telecast of key events to allow them to run in primetime, but Hill said the criticism was unwarranted, given the high pricetag that comes with the Games. Nets have every incentive to run events at the time when they can reach the largest auds and command the highest ad rates.

“People say, ‘How dare they time shift,’ but for the average person, they want to watch at 8 o’clock at night,” he said.

With the next Winter Games in Russia, time-shifting will be even more of an issue than it was in Vancouver, and that could be a factor for U.S. nets as they decide how much to bid.

Hill said he and his team will assess the upside versus a possible financial hit to airing the Games, and determine how important it is to the network. At that point, they’ll come up with a figure that makes it worthwhile.

“We will bid what we bid. What we’ve always done is look at our economics and figured out what we were going to do,” Hill said. “The problem is you don’t know the economic conditions at the time of the Games. Were we too cautious last time around? I don’t think we were. If (NBC) lost $200 million, what would we have done?”

Fox may see its strongest competition from ABC/ESPN, which has money to spend now that it lost the bidding a few weeks ago for the NCAA Basketball Tournament to CBS and Turner, which teamed on a 14-year, $10.8 billion deal for college hoops.

Like Fox, all-sports cabler ESPN has never had an Olympics on its air, and the cachet of airing the Games is something its execs covet. Regardless of whether they win Olympics TV rights, ESPN is certainly making a presence outside the States as of late.

The network recently premiered in the U.K. and is the home of soccer’s English Premiere League, which is enormously popular across the Pond. Also, the cabler is set to air the World Cup in June and July.

NBC might also come back with a strong bid, though it will likely depend on the status of its pending merger with Comcast Corp. at the time the bidding gets under way.

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