Dick Ebersol has resigned from NBC Sports. He will be replaced by Mark Lazarus, the president of the NBC Sports Cable Group.
He could not agree on new contract terms, reports the New York Times. On Monday, he was throwing out footballs at NBC’s upfront presentation. But he did not stay for the post-presentation lunch at the Hilton New York.
Ebersol has run NBC Sports since 1989, overseeing the network’s Olympic coverage and bids over the years.
The move comes at a crucial time for NBC Sports as it mulls a bid for the 2014 and 2016 Olympics, and months after Comcast completed its takeover of NBC Universal.
Sources at NBC Sports say there was immediately tension between Ebersol and Comcast executives, including Steve Burke, now CEO of NBC Universal. It was a difference in philosophies between Ebersol’s free-spending ways for sports rights and Comcast’s priority that sports should not be a deep loss leader.
Ebersol denied to the Times that he disagreed with the new management.
Burke said in a statement: “Dick Ebersol is an incredible talent whose contributions to the company over the last four decades in sports, news and entertainment are unsurpassed. Dick has masterfully produced everything from the Olympics and Sunday Night Football, to the Triple Crown, NHL games and major golf and tennis events. In the entertainment world, he helped create Saturday Night Live, one of the most significant programs in television. We will miss his intellect, experience, and passion for the television business.”
Ebersol added: “What I have enjoyed most is working so closely with so many truly outstanding and incredibly talented people over decades of producing some of the greatest events in the world. Those relationships are what I cherish most. I have always said this business is about relationships and I have been fortunate enough to have more deep and meaningful friendships than any man could imagine.
“It has been a sincere privilege to tell so many remarkable stories that have inspired me throughout my entire career. Some of my favorite memories come from reading letters and talking to viewers who also have been moved by such powerful stories…I simply want to say thank you to all of those people who have touched me so deeply throughout my career.”
In a statement Burke said that [Lazarus] “will take over an organization that is well-positioned for growth. Mark is an industry veteran who has worked with every major sports league, and I know that he will do a terrific job leading the team.”
Ebersol was named to run the NBC Sports Group in February, overseeing NBC Sports, Golf Channel, Versus and Comcast’s regional sports channels. He oversaw negoations for NBC and Versus’ broadcast rights to the National Hockey League for $1.9 billion.
Ebersol bid $2 billion for the 2010 and 2012 Olympics. The network lost $220 million on the 2010 Vancouver Games and is sure to also lose money on the 2012 Summer Games in London, which accounts for $1.2 billion of the total rights package. But Ebersol contends that in his two decades of dealing, that’s the only time he’s taken a bath.
“Those were the only times that we ever lost money,” Ebersol told The Hollywood Reporter in April. “To some degree I overbid in 2003, and the marketplace was not quite reset post the economic crisis of late [2008 and 2009].”
At NBC Universal, Burke has stressed the focus of fiscal responsibility. (“We are here to make money,” he told Wall Street analysts last month when asked if NBCUni would bid on the 2014 and 2016 Olympics in Russia and Brazil.) But the Games have also been an integral part of NBC’s sports portfolio for decades.
As far as rights deals in general, Ebersol joked during the NHL press conference that he doesn’t believe that he’ll be “let out of the building unless I’m going to make money.”
Turning a profit on multibillion-dollar rights packages, he told THR, “is a mandate that I’ve lived with for a long time.”
Georg Szalai contributed to this report.