Ebersol Resigns as Chairman of NBC Sports After Failing to Reach Contract

Dick Ebersol, the executive who secured NBC Sports’ grip on rights to broadcast the Olympic Games in the U.S., resigned as chairman of the NBC Universal division after 22 years as the helm.

Ebersol, 63, couldn’t reach agreement on a new contract, said a person with knowledge of the situation who declined to be identified because the details weren’t public. He will be replaced by Mark Lazarus, president of NBC Sports Cable Group, New York-based NBC Universal said today in a statement.

Without Ebersol, NBC’s chances to acquire future Olympics are diminished, Harvey Schiller, former head of the U.S. Olympic Committee, said in an interview. His resignation, four months after Comcast Corp. (CMCSA) acquired control of NBC Universal, comes ahead of next month’s bidding for U.S. rights. Ebersol’s decision is unrelated to the games, said the person.

“The playing field is more level than it ever has been,” Schiller said. “That said, it always gets back to the number, who’s going to pledge the most.”

At stake are the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, and 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. The International Olympic Committee has said the networks can also make offers on a four-games package including the 2018 and 2020 Olympics.

NBC in 2005 acquired the rights to the 2010 and 2012 Olympics in a deal worth $2.2 billion. Before the Vancouver games, GE said NBC would lose about $250 million broadcasting the 2010 Winter Olympics. NBC will also likely lose money on the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, said Mike Weisman, a former NBC Sports executive producer.

Rival Bidders?

“Dick is a guy that’s a visionary, always has been,” said Charles Besser, chief executive officer of Intersport, a sports marketing company. “He’s an unbelievably good producer.”

Walt Disney Co. (DIS)’s ESPN and News Corp. (NWSA)’s Fox Sports are likely bidders for the Olympic Games, Adweek reported this month. NBC, under Comcast and without Ebersol, will be less aggressive in bidding, Jason Armstrong, an analyst at Goldman, Sachs & Co. in New York, said in an interview.

“Comcast will bid, but with a much greater degree of financial discipline that probably will limit the company’s prospects of ultimately winning,” said Armstrong, who recommends buying Comcast shares.

Comcast, the biggest U.S. cable system owner, acquired control of NBC Universal from General Electric Co. (GE), and added its Versus and Golf Channel to the sports unit.

Comcast, based in Philadelphia, gained 1 cent to $25.38 at 4;30 p.m. New York time in Nasdaq Stock Market trading. The shares have climbed 16 percent this year.

NBC Universal CEO Stephen Burke and Lazarus weren’t available to comment beyond their statements in the press release, according to Adam Miller, a spokesman.

To contact the reporters on this story: Michele Steele in New York at msteele10@bloomberg.net; Andy Fixmer in New York at afixmer@bloomberg.net; Scott Soshnick in New York at ssoshnick@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Anthony Palazzo at apalazzo@bloomberg.net; Michael Sillup at msillup@bloomberg.net

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