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Fox kicks off presentations in Olympic rights bids

By Stephen Wilson

Associated Press

Published: Monday, June 6 2011 6:45 a.m. MDT

LAUSANNE, Switzerland — Fox led off the presentations Monday by the three U.S. networks bidding for the next set of Olympic television rights, a high-stakes contest that could lead to a multi-billion-dollar deal stretching through 2020.

Fox sports chairman David Hill headed a six-man delegation that went into a scheduled two-hour meeting with International Olympic Committee officials on Monday, making a pitch to secure the first games in the U.S. for Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.

"It's eight years to the day when we made our last pitch, which is also D-Day," Hill, looking relaxed in a pink open-neck shirt and dark blazer, said as he headed into the closed-door presentation at IOC headquarters.

Asked how he was approaching the meeting, Hill said, "We don't really plan these things. They just happen. We just chat."

Fox is competing against incumbent NBC and ESPN/ABC, which will make their case to the IOC on Tuesday.

The three companies will submit sealed bids on Tuesday afternoon, and the IOC could announce the winner by the end of the day or order another round of bidding. It wants a deal in place before the IOC general assembly starts July 4 in Durban, South Africa.

At stake are rights to the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, and 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. In a new twist, the networks can also bid on a four-games package including the 2018 and 2020 Games, whose sites have not yet been selected.

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 says it 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.

NBC has broadcast every Summer Olympics since 1988 and every Winter Games since 2002, and holds the rights through next year's London Olympics. Eight years ago, NBC and parent company General Electric outbid the same two competitors, with Fox offering $1.3 billion.

The dynamics have changed sharply this time, with NBC now under the control of cable giant Comcast and with long-time sports and Olympics chief Dick Ebersol no longer at the helm.

Ebersol resigned last month following what was described as a contract dispute with Comcast.

Ebersol was a close partner of the IOC, negotiating several multi-games deals that kept the committee's coffers bulging and ensured the stability of the games in the Olympics' most important financial market.

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 the London Olympics.

All three contenders have brought top-level delegations to Lausanne. NBC's team includes CEO Steve Burke and Comcast chief executive Brian Roberts, while ESPN has chief executive George Bodenheimer and Disney CEO Robert Iger.

IOC TV rights negotiator Richard Carrion told The Associated Press that the big uncertainty is whether the networks will bid for two or four games. He said each network had asked for the bid forms for both options, meaning the IOC could have to decide between one network bidding on two Olympics and another on four.

"It makes the decision a little more complex," he said. "We may have to make a judgment whether we want to go long term."

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.

Both Fox and ESPN have said they would carry all Olympic events live, breaking from NBC's long-time 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.

ESPN also 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 for the 2010 and 2012 Olympics.

Also present at the bidding are U.S. Olympic Committee chairman Larry Probst and CEO Scott Blackmun.

The USOC currently gets a 12.75 percent share of U.S. TV rights deals and 20 percent of global sponsorship revenues, figures many international officials consider too high. Both sides are negotiating a new revenue-sharing deal to take effect in 2020.

The USOC and IOC will renew those talks Wednesday, and say they also hope to have an agreement in place by early July.

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