Dick Ebersol resigned on Thursday as chairman of the NBC Sports Group, leaving the perennial US television home of the Olympics only three weeks before TV bids are considered for the 2014 and 2016 Games.
Ebersol told the New York Times he could not reach agreement on terms of a new contract just months after NBC was bought by US cable giant Comcast, ending a TV career of more than 40 years, the past 22 years as boss of NBC Sports.
NBC has purchased the US broadcast rights to the Summer Olympics since 1988 in Seoul and each Winter Olympics since 2002 in Salt Lake City.
The timing of Ebersol’s departure raises questions about whether or not a Comcast-owned NBC will continue to out-bid rivals for US Olympic TV rights.
ESPN-ABC and Fox are expected to bid against NBC for a rights package that commanded US$2.2 million when Ebersol made the winning bid eight years ago for rights to the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics and next year’s London Olympics.
NBC lost a reported US$223 million on Vancouver coverage only months after Comcast announced plans to purchase NBC from General Electric.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) will host presentations and secret bidding for rights to the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics and 2016 Rio de Janeiro Summer Olympics next month, with bidding also available on a four-event package including the 2018 and 2020 Olympics at sites yet to be determined.
IOC officials have said they expect at least as much income as the prior package for the new one.
Mark Lazarus, who was president of the NBC Sports Cable Group, was appointed to replace Ebersol, who together with Lorne Michaels developed Saturday Night Live into an iconic late-night comedy show that has run since 1975.
“It has been a sincere privilege to tell so many remarkable stories that have inspired me throughout my entire career,” Ebersol said. “Some of my favorite memories come from reading letters and talking to viewers who also have been moved by such powerful stories.”
Ebersol, 63, began his career in 1967 when he took a hiatus from studies at Yale University to serve as a researcher for ABC television’s Olympic coverage.