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Will NBC's Olympics Streak End?

2008 Beijing Olympics
Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

Changes under Comcast could mean the 2014 and 2016 Games go elsewhere

Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images
TBS

With Dick Ebersol leaving NBC Sports, are parent company Comcast's chances of landing the 2014 and 2016 Olympics going with him? Insiders say NBCUniversal will likely fall short of Disney and News Corp. when U.S. TV rights to the Games are auctioned off June 6-7. Comcast topper Brian Roberts insists that the company turn a profit on its sports coverage, and with the departure of Ebersol -- shepherd of the Olympics since 1988 -- Fox and Disney are eyeing the Games (as are CBS and Time Warner). "There's no way for NBC to spin Ebersol's departure as anything other than a major loss," says Andrew Billings, a Clemson University professor and author of Olympic Media. "From a persuasiveness standpoint, Ebersol did not just offer massive expertise, he offered credibility and gravitas." The Olympic Committee is considering offers for two or four Games. The price for two is likely to be about $1.8 billion, down from the $2.2 billion or so that NBC paid for the 2010 and 2012 Games (it lost an estimated $223 million on the Vancouver Winter Olympics last year). Experts say $1.5 billion-$1.7 billion in ad revenue will be generated by the 2014 and 2016 Games, with carriage-fee hikes and other streams necessary to turn a profit -- so the combination of ESPN, ABC and other Disney assets have the most potential for upside. Traveling to Switzerland to head NBC's bidding are Roberts; NBCUni CEO Steve Burke; Gary Zenkel, who runs its Olympics operation; and Mark Lazarus, who has replaced Ebersol. "Burke is calling the shots, and he thinks the rights to the 2014 and 2016 Games are worth a lot less than $2 billion," one insider says. Still, the Olympics would boost Comcast's Versus sports channel. "They have spent a lot of money on Versus and want to make it a contender," says SNL Kagan analyst Derek Baine. Which gives Disney incentive to bid aggressively to protect ESPN.