Why Bob Costas Is Ready to Sign Off as NBC's Primetime Olympics Host

Bob Costas

"It’s always better when they leave the decision to you," the anchor explained.

Bob Costas has been the face of NBC’s Olympics coverage for a quarter century — since assuming the primetime host role with the 1992 Summer Games in Barcelona (which was NBC Olympics chief Jim Bell’s first Olympics, as a lowly runner). 

The official passing of the baton to Mike Tirico may have occurred on Thursday — exactly one year to the day when NBC Sports kicks off its coverage of the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. But Costas says he made the decision to step down in 2012, when he was renewing his deal with NBCUniversal in the wake of the Comcast merger. 

“We built into the deal what they were kind enough to call the 'Brokaw clause,' where I would be to sports roughly what Tom Brokaw was to news. I’m flattered by the comparison,” explained Costas during a conference call with reporters.

He decided that last summer's Rio Olympics would be his last as host. "I’m not retiring, I’m just transitioning," said Costas.

His emeritus role will evolve gradually. Costas will no longer host Football Night in America, NBC’s Sunday Night Football pregame show. He will host the Kentucky Derby this year, but going forward will only be part of coverage if a horse is going for the Triple Crown at the Belmont Stakes, the final leg of the thoroughbred race circuit. And he will host next season’s Super Bowl because Tirico will already be in South Korea preparing for the Olympics. 

Costas, 64, said it was important to exit on his own terms and while he still has the energy to pursue a full schedule, which will include more coverage of baseball, his first love, on MLB Network as well as documentaries.

“It’s always better when they leave the decision to you,” said Costas. “It’s better to leave before they start to drop hints like, 'Do you think it might be a good idea? Are you getting tired yet, can we help you up the steps, or do you need another cup of Ovaltine, sir?' I didn’t want it to get to that point. So this was entirely on my terms, and I like it that way.”

Tirico, 50, arrived at NBC Sports last May after more than two decades at ESPN and has quickly assumed a leading role at the network. He has hosted Football Night in America as well as signature golf events The Open and The Ryder Cup. He also has done play-by-play on SNF, Thursday Night Football and Notre Dame Football and hosted The Breeders’ Cup. Tirico noted that while the array of sports rights, including the Olympics, were a draw for him, assuming Costas' role one day was not part of his initial contract discussions with NBC Sports executives. 

NBC Sports has had a stranglehold on the Olympics for decades, and in 2014 the network extended its rights agreement with the International Olympic Committee from 2021 to 2032 for a record $7.65 billion. The Games have remained popular even as the IOC has long been a target of criticism for aligning itself with authoritarian regimes or failing to take a hard line against doping. And Costas has never been shy about sharing his opinions, and asking the very people with whom NBC Sports has multibillion dollar contracts very difficult questions. 

On Thursday, he was asked about the future of the Olympics in the wake of a cascade of doping scandals including an apparently state-sponsored program in Russia involving hundreds of the country’s Olympic athletes. 

“The recent Russia doping scandal was so pervasive and not, like so many others the result of individuals with rogue chemists, but was a sophisticated government-run and approved doping program that spread over a number of Olympics, including one which Russia itself hosted [in Sochi in 2014],” said Costas. “If [the IOC is] not going to get serious about that with lifetime bans and even more comprehensive testing and with the possibility of taking international events — be they Olympics or World Championships — away from potentially offending world nations, and I’m talking about you, Russia, in this case, then they might as well wave the white flag.”