Fox Kicks Off Presentations in Olympics TV Rights Bidding Process

Fox Sports head David Hill, who led his company's delegation, wrapped up his presentation with a salute to recently departed NBC Sports head Dick Ebersol.

NEW YORK - Fox on Monday kicked off the presentations by U.S. bidders for the TV rights to future Olympics with a two-hour meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland with about 18 representatives and observers of the International Olympic Committee and U.S. Olympic Committee.

Fox's presentation ran for about 1 hour and 45 minutes, with 15 minutes for questions.

Fox Sports head David Hill, who led his company's delegation, wrapped up the presentation with a verbal salute to recently departed NBC Sports head Dick Ebersol and what he meant to the Olympic movement, according to a source. Hill also stated that he will miss his former competitor, who had a strong relationship with IOC and USOC staff, the source said.

Observers expected the Fox team to highlight the Fox network's 18-49 primetime leadership and its ability to also air coverage on such News Corp. cable networks as FX, Speed, Fox Soccer Channel and maybe even Nat Geo.

A Fox Sports spokesman declined to comment on financial or other details of the presentation. Late in the day, it emerged that Fox will submit two bids - one for two Games and one for four Olympics.

On Tuesday, the delegations of Walt Disney's ESPN, including ESPN/ABC Sports boss George Bodenheimer and Disney CEO Robert Iger, and NBCUniversal/Comcast, including Comcast chairman and CEO Brian Roberts and NBCUni CEO Steve Burke, will present.

Sealed bids will then be opened. A decision could come as early as late on Tuesday local time.

Bidding focuses on the 2014 Sochi Winter Games and 2016 Rio de Janeiro Summer Games, but could also include the following two Olympics if a suitor decides to include them. The IOC is believed to be looking for offers in the $2.2 billion range that won NBC its previous bid.

Bidding "could exceed $2 billion with potential for a $4 billion headline price if the auction process is extended to include the 2018 and 2020 Games - even prior to the latter being awarded," said Wunderlich Securities analyst Matthew Harrigan.

The analyst in a Monday report said that all three U.S. bidders bring unique elements to the table, but he argued that the still-weak economy makes the bidding tougher.

"The Olympic bidding was actually pushed into June off deference to the weak economy and the network upfront, although the IOC's gambit is not supported by recent soft economic reports such as last Friday's job report," Harrigan said. "The Sochi Olympics are also hamstrung by their Russian time zone relative to U.S. prime time viewing. Any bid to include 2018 and 2020 is complicated by the 2018 Winter Games not being awarded until July 6, with Annecy, Munich, and Pyeonchang the candidate cities, with 2020 not awarded until 2013."

That said, Harrigan argued that ESPN/ABC's "worldwide sports leadership affords [its bid] credibility as does its success with the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa."

Also, Disney has "ample channel shelf space" even beyond the ESPN brands and ABC, including ABC Family and the Disney Channel. Plus, Disney is believed to add in a global sponsorship paralleling the $200 million that General Electric contributed for NBC's winning 2010 and 2012 bids.

All that said, Disney and ESPN could "reinforce" the Olympic brand, the analyst argued.

"Everything else being equal, ESPN's versatility across all screens (as witnessed with the 2010 World Cup) and ESPN's immersive sports environment could be supportive of the Olympics' long-term relevance if the economic bids are in the same vicinity," Harrigan said. "ABC's female prime time demographic could provide a further human interest story complement in synch with recent productions of the Olympics."

NBC may be without Ebersol and its strong ties to the IOC, but Harrigan wouldn't count it out.

"Even sans Ebersol, NBC has advantages with having broadcast every Olympics since the 1984 Summer and 1988 Winter Games, with 835 hours from Vancouver," he said. "Particularly if the process is extended out to 2018 and 2020, the structure could have implications for broadcast retrans and cable network subscription fees, including most evidently the NBC network and stations but also affecting ambitions for national sports network Versus."

Email: Georg.Szalai@thr,com

Twitter: @georgszalai