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IOC Chief Defends Stealth Olympics Rights Deal with NBCUniversal

NBCUniversal’s blockbuster $7.75 billion deal to extend its Olympic rights another 10 years, through the 2032 games, began with a suggestion last November from International Olympics Committee president Thomas Bach.

The surprise agreement announced Wednesday spurred immediate tongue-wagging from NBCU’s TV sports rivals because the rights to the games were not made available for competitive bidding.

Bach (pictured) defended that decision in a conference call with reporters Wednesday, emphasizing that the IOC felt comfortable with its longtime partner and wanted the financial security of a long-term deal. The deal calls for NBCU to pay $7.65 billion for rights to the games from 2022 through 2032 and a $100 million “signing bonus” that will be used to promote “Olympic values” during the next six years.

“This kind of deal is not only about money,” Bach said. “You can maybe make one more dollar in a deal but afterward (have) your product being destroyed. We’re thinking long-term at the IOC.”

Bach held to that assertion even when pressed by reporters on why the IOC would lock up the rights so far out at a time when rights to must-watch live sports are only going up. Compared to the terms of NBCU’s most recent Olympics pact, the Peacock will pay $1.4 billion more per games. “This is not small,” Bach said.

But at the same time he repeatedly cited the need to find the “fair balance betwen knowing your property is in good hands and the financial commitment.”

Bach said he floated the idea of a long-term extension to NBCU execs last fall over dinner in New York. Comcast chief Brian Roberts, Bach and a handful of others met again during the Sochi Winter games in February. The “last touch” and handshake sealing the deal took place Wednesday afternoon at IOC headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, where Roberts was on hand to sign the contract.

Roberts stressed the importance of the Olympics as a biennial media event that allows Comcast to flex all of its muscle as a  company that sits “at the intersection of technology and media.” The Sochi winter games in February gave Comcast and NBCU the confidence that the Olympics are uniquely suited to allowing Comcast a canvas to innovate in the presentation of programming and live coverage through its various TV and digital technology investments.

“We’ve only begun to scratch the surface,” Roberts said, referring to the 2012 and 2014 games that NBCU has covered since Comcast bought the Peacock in early 2011.

The length of the deal also allows NBCU’s Olympics unit the luxury of “building strategies for the future,” added NBC Sports Group chairman Mark Lazarus.

Bach said the IOC distributes more than 90% of its revenue to the organizers of the various games and to the Olympic committees of 204 countries to help support their training programs and athletes. “The stakeholders of the Olympic movement are sharing our happiness,” he said.

The long-term extension even before the IOC began the process of setting the host cities for the games in question. There is much speculation that the U.S. will make a big run at landing the 2024 summer games.

The length of the deal also raised immediate questions by pundits whether NBC and other TV networks will still be offering linear programming in 2032. Roberts alluded to this in his closing remarks on the call.

“No one can be quite sure what the world will look like in 2032,” he said. But he has nearly $8 billion worth of faith “that the Olympics, with this leadership, this history and future, will be the most compelling televised sport in the world. We’re proud to be a part of making that happen.”

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