Published: 8:08 am, Tue. June 7th, 2011Updated: 8:11 am
LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) — After final pitches by incumbent NBC and ESPN, the IOC deliberated Tuesday on the bids from U.S. networks vying for Olympic television rights in a high-stakes contest worth billions of dollars.
Executives from NBC, ESPN and Fox submitted sealed envelopes into a see-through plexiglass box, then left the building to let International Olympic Committee officials open them and consider the offers in private.
IOC President Jacques Rogge could announce a winner by the end of the day or order a new round of bids.
At stake are exclusive broadcast rights to at least two Olympics — the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, and 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. The networks can also bid on a four-games package including the 2018 and 2020 Games, whose sites have not been selected.
The IOC wants a deal in place before its general assembly starts July 4 in Durban, South Africa.
It’s the first U.S. rights auction since 2003, when NBC secured the 2010 and 2012 Olympics in a deal worth $2.2 billion.
The IOC hopes to surpass that fee this time. If the IOC agrees to a four-games deal, the figure could potentially run between $4-5 billion.
Fox said it would bid for the four games. NBC and ESPN declined to disclose their plans.
NBC, which has broadcast every Summer Olympics since 1988 and every Winter Games since 2002, was the last of three networks to make a formal presentation to the IOC.
Missing this time was Dick Ebersol, the longtime NBC sports and Olympics chief. He resigned suddenly last month in a dispute with Comcast, the cable giant which took over NBC in January.
Among the 17-member NBC delegation was Bob Costas, who has hosted the network’s coverage of eight Olympics.
“I think we had a compelling presentation and I hope they felt the same way,” Costas said. “I hope we retain the rights. My message was we’ve done it well and we’d like to do it again.”
Mark Lazarus, who replaced Ebersol as NBC Sports chairman, was asked about not having the former Olympic mastermind with the bid.
“I’ve never been here with him,” Lazarus said. “We have a great team of people who put the best foot forward with our heritage and legacy.'”
NBC’s contingent also included CEO Steve Burke and Brian Roberts, the chief executive of Comcast.
Comcast executives have made clear they’re not interested in a repeat of the 2010 Vancouver Games, when NBC lost more than $200 million in a rough economy. NBC also stands to take a similar hit from next year’s London Olympics.
If the networks opt for a four-games package, they will do so without knowing where the last two will be held. The IOC will select the 2018 host city on July 6 in Durban. The candidates are Annecy, France; Munich; and Pyeongchang, South Korea. The host of the 2020 Olympics will be chosen in 2013, and Rome is the only official contender so far.
NBC was expected to face tough competition from ESPN/ABC.
ESPN president George Bodenheimer cited the “unrivaled” assets of parent company Disney, its appeal to young viewers and plans for live coverage of all events.
“I believe the assets of the Walt Disney Co. are unequaled,” he said after his network’s presentation.
ESPN brings the powerful Disney brand to the table, which raises the prospect of a possible tie-in with the games. GE threw in a $200 million global sponsorship as part of NBC’s winning bid eight years ago.
“The platforms of the Walt Disney Co. overall are unrivaled, particularly in sport on ESPN platforms and we think that’s a big advantage we have to help grow the Olympic movement,” Bodenheimer said.
Both Fox and ESPN say they would carry all Olympic events live, breaking from NBC’s longtime practice of airing most of the games on tape delay in prime time. ESPN broadcast all the matches live from last year’s World Cup in South Africa.
“We think sport should be enjoyed live by sports fans, so we would televise every minute of the Olympics live,” Bodenheimer said, adding that ABC would also broadcast taped footage in prime time.
Bodenheimer said ESPN and Disney offer a special appeal to youth.
“We think that’s an advantage that our company brings is appealing to younger sports fans,” he said. “If you look at the World Cup last year, one out of every three viewers was viewing (on ESPN) on a device other than a television. Those are very young demographics and ESPN is leading the way in utilizing those type of platforms for major events and we would do that for the Olympic movement.”
He also cited ESPN’s partnership with ABC, which dominated the U.S. broadcast scene in the U.S. before NBC became the dominant player over the past 20 years. ABC’s last Olympics was the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary.
“We have a long history with the Olympics, a long and cherished history on both sides,” Bodenheimer said. “I believe that is important.”
Stephen Wilson can be followed at http://twitter.com/stevewilsonap