ESPN Wants U.S. Rights For 2014, 2016 Olympics; Would Air More Live; Tape Delays 'Not Our Culture'

This story was written by Staci D. Kramer.
The cauldron for the 2008 Olympics is still burning in Beijing and NBC has the next two locked in already but ESPN's (NYSE: DIS) John Skipper is thinking aheadand making promises that sound pretty good to people frustrated by the time-delayed broadcasts. Skipper tells Richard Sandomir the Disney sports unit wants the video rights to the 2014 and 2016 Games and would go live more of the time. Skipper was careful to praise NBC for its coverage while disagreeing with the strategy, suggesting that the two are wired differently and that a sports net is a better fit then a primetime-centric broadcaster. Granted, ESPN has a broadcast sibling in ABC but that wouldn't keep it from airing events live across time zones, for instance. Skipper: "We serve sports fans. It's hard in our culture to fathom tape-delaying in the same way they have. I'm not suggesting it wasn't the smart thing for them to do, but it's not our culture. We did Euro 2008 in the afternoon. We've done the World Cup in the middle of the morning. We have different audiences."

The ESPN-ABC combo gambled with a bid for 2012-2014 but, as Sandomir points out, the decision to offer rev share with no cash up front was far overshadowed by NBC's $2.2 billion. (That number includes the IOC sponsorship by parent GE.) Fox competed for the rights then, and likely will do so again; CBS (NYSE: CBS) has yet to show interest. The Disney sibs would offer a full package across their properties that would be comparable to NBC's, says Skipper: "There's nothing that NBC has that we don't have the assets to replicate and do better."

Broadband rights aren't spelled out in the article but broadband and mobile usually are essential elements for ESPN deals. 

By Staci D. Kramer