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Dick Ebersol resigned Thursday from his post atop NBC Sports Group, just one month to the day that he and the NHL announced a 10-year, $2 billion television contract that will keep hockey on NBC and VERSUS until 2021.
It was the biggest television deal in the history of the NHL, and if you want one reason why it became a reality, you have to look no further than Ebersol, the man who's run NBC Sports since 1989 (until Thursday). Ebersol facilitated that deal thanks to a close relationship with Gary Bettman, and he offered more to hockey than any of the other suitors could, including ESPN.
Quite simply, he believed in the NHL as a valuable television property and decided to throw everything his group had at retaining its American television rights. He indicated as much in an interview with Bettman on the Commissioner's SiriusXM program last month.
"In these last six years," he said, "the game has become much more fun for the fan and the viewer to watch. The game gives much more of an opportunity for the skills of the players to be seen. I think what [Bettman] did, in consultation with the players, really was remarkable and made the game a much better arena experience and obviously a much better television experience because it was a faster, cleaner game to watch and to enjoy."
If there's one thing Ebersol proved over the course of his tenure at NBC, it's that he knows when to jump on board with something. He did it with the NBA in the early 1990s and NBC rode the success of Michael Jordan to the bank. Of course, that was a different situation than the one the NHL currently faces.
It's not just a broadcast TV deal now. It's a cable deal, too, with the success of VERSUS a major question mark in the success or failure of that deal from the NHL's perspective.
With Ebersol at the helm, the overwhelming hope was that NBC Sports Group would use the Comcast money, the new NHL contract and the next few Olympics, as well as other properties, to turn VERSUS into a challenger to ESPN. Now, without Ebersol, the ability of NBC to land those Olympic deals in 2014 and 2016 is in question, and thus, the ability to turn VERSUS into a major challenger for ESPN sooner rather than later is in question as well.
A lot will fall on Mark Lazarus, who joined NBC Sports Group as the head of their cable-side operations in February. Lazarus, who also holds a stake in SB Nation, has big shoes to fill at NBC, and the success of the NHL's mammoth TV deal is just a part of that.
Dick Ebersol's announcement that he is leaving NBC Sports shocked the world of sports television on Thursday, but the impact will likely be strongest felt in the Olympics.
Ebersol, who has run NBC Sports since 1989 but said he could not come to agreement on a new contract, was instrumental in the network's bids that landed NBC every Summer Games since 1988, and the past three Winter Games -- more Olympic broadcasting rights than any other network. But now with Ebersol leaving -- he'll reportedly be replaced by Mark Lazarus -- the future television home of the Olympics is unknown.
But answers will come quickly. Negotiations for the rights to broadcast the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi and the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro are scheduled for next month, and with Ebersol not attending those meetings in Switzerland, it seems unlikely that NBC will make a big push, especially after the 2010 Vancouver Games.
Under Ebersol, NBC won the rights -- with a winning bid of $2.2 billion -- for both the 2010 Winter Games and the 2012 Summer Games in London, but the victory proved costly: NBC lost $223 million broadcasting the 2010 Olympics, by far the worst performing of Ebersol's eight Olympics.
Without Ebersol, and with Comcast, which bought NBC Universal earlier this year, unlikely to want make a large investment after the financial disaster that was Vancouver, it is safe to assume that NBC's Olympic bid is in trouble, with FOX and ESPN ready to pounce.
Dick Ebersol has resigned from NBC Sports after failing to reach an agreement on a new contract, the network has confirmed. Ebersol is among the most important folks in sports and his impact on the NFL is a rather large one, especially since re-entering the NFL market in 2006.
In 1998, NBC lost their NFL rights to CBS and went eight years without the NFL before returning in 2006 with Sunday Night Football. However, it wasn't just Sunday Night Football that Eberson and Co. acquired. They also had a unique approach with the NFL's flex scheduling.
In the final half of the season, certain games can be flexed to Sunday night in a marquee time slot. The NFL schedule comes out in April so sometimes a game that looks attractive then ends up being a dud and the flex scheduling with NBC allows the network to flex a better game into that Sunday night time slot.
As a football fan who always wants to see the best games, it was a brilliant (if under utilized) plan.
Eberson also acquired the 2009 Super Bowl which was among the most watched Super Bowls of all time. NBC will also air the Super Bowl in 2012.
Dick Ebersol has resigned as the president of NBC Sports, reports Richard Sandomir of the New York Times. Ebersol has been NBC Sports' top boss since 1989. One of his first major moves as president was to acquire the rights to NBA broadcasts in 1989. NBC carried the NBA from 1990 through 2002.
Ebersol agreed to pay $600 million for four years of the NBA, betting huge that the league could carry the momentum from the Magic Johnson-Larry Bird era forward. Needless to say, they did: Michael Jordan's prominence helped lead the NBA to record ratings throughout the 1990s.
But after Jordan's retirement, NBC lost faith in the league; the network claimed to have lost hundreds of millions of dollars in the post-MJ years, and let ABC, ESPN and TNT outbid it for NBA rights. The ABC family took over for the 2002-03 season, and retains those rights today.
As the league's ratings declined further in the 2003-2007 span dominated on the court by the Spurs and Pistons, Ebersol's decision seemed on point. But now that the NBA is challenging many of those '90s-era record ratings with a new golden age, NBC may regret the decision to jettison pro basketball. (NBC has since picked up limited NFL rights and recently signed a major deal with the NHL.)
NBC Sports Group President Dick Ebersol has resigned from his position, according to Richard Sandomir of the New York Times. He'll be replaced by Mark Lazarus, who was recently named the head of the cable side of the NBC Sports Group, overseeing the VERSUS network, Golf Channel and local Comcast SportsNet channels. He reported directly to Ebersol in that role.
The Times report says that Ebersol couldn't come to an agreement with the company on a new contract, which raises the possibility that he didn't quite get along with his new bosses after Comcast purchased a majority stake in NBC Universal.
Ebersol, 63, has been at the helm of NBC Sports since 1989. He first popped onto the sports television landscape much earlier, joining ABC Sports as a researcher in 1967 -- while still in college. Since taking over atop NBC Sports, though, he's shaped the network's sports coverage, primarily through coverage of the Olympics.
Thanks largely to his leadership, NBC has been able to secure the rights to both the Summer Olympics in every year since 1988 and the Winter Olympics in every year since 2002. That includes recent deals for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics and the 2012 London Games.
Negotiations for a deal on the 2014 Sochi Games and the 2016 Summer Olympics in Russia are still not complete, and with Ebersol out of the picture, it's widely believed that NBC loses much of its leverage in those discussions. Sandomir's report says that he'll be sticking around until June, but that he won't be attending negotiations.
Following the Comcast acquisition, Ebersol took control of not just NBC Sports, but the entire new "NBC Sports Group," consisting of several powerful regional sports networks, up-and-coming sports network VERSUS, Golf Channel and others properties. He facilitated a new 10-year pact with the NHL in this new position, thanks in part to a close relationship with Commissioner Gary Bettman.
That's apparently the last deal he brokered for NBC. He's gone, and it's a major shift in the sports television landscape.