US Olympic television plans anger IOC
International Olympic Committee members have reacted with dismay to the news that the United States Olympic Committee – by some distance the largest beneficiary of Olympic Games related revenues distributed to national Olympic Committees – is planning to launch its own Olympic television channel next year.
In a strongly worded statement, released on Thursday, the IOC expressed its disappointment at the USOC's unilateral decision to announce the launch the new channel. It said: "We were aware that the USOC had been considering a new 'Olympic broadcast network', but we have never been presented with a plan, and we had assumed that we would have an opportunity to discuss unresolved questions together before the project moved forward."
The statement added that there were "complex legal and contractual issues" involved in any such announcement and that the new channel could have "a negative impact on our relationships with other Olympic broadcasters and sponsors, including our US TV partner, NBC." It is understood that, prior to the statement, IOC president Jacques Rogge held a conference call with the IOC's television rights negotiator Richard Carrion, underlining the seriousness with which the IOC took the news. Rogge had previously spoken to USOC chairman Larry Probst about the organisation’s plans. However the IOC did not sanction any announcement.
According to the Associated Press, Timo Lumme, director of television and marketing for the IOC, sent a letter to Norman Bellingham, chief operating officer of the USOC, earlier in the week expressing the IOC's "serious concerns about the launch of such a network." The letter added: "The IOC retains certain approvals and controls over the use and sublicense of Olympic marks and/or historical Olympic Games footage in the United States. The USOC should not proceed on the assumption that any such approvals will be granted, or any such controls waived by the IOC."
Despite the warnings about its haste the USOC went public with its plans on Wednesday. In collaboration with Comcast Corporation it plans to broadcast archive footage and Olympic news, plus coverage of Olympic sports, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It also has plans for the channel to be available to US internet users. To be known as the US Olympic Network, the channel launch date has been pencilled in for early next year, after the Vancouver Winter Olympics. Stephanie Streeter, the acting chief executive officer of the USOC, said: "We believe strongly that the USON network can also serve as a template that can be used in other parts of the world to expand access to the Olympic experience."
She added: "The USON's unparalleled year-round exposure of the Olympic brand will generate compelling opportunities for Olympic sponsors to expand their association with the Olympic Games and the Olympic Movement. At the same time, we believe it will enhance interest in and viewership of Olympic-related coverage on broadcast networks."
NBC, which holds the broadcast rights for the next cycle of Olympic Games including the next summer Games in London and has broadcast every Olympics since 2000 in the US, reacted to the announcement with sceptism. Dick Ebersol, NBC Sport's chairman, said: "I question its commercial viability absent the major sports." However the USOC's Bellingham insisted; "We don’t see ourselves as competing with NBC. We see ourselves as being about the Olympic movement."
The dispute is the latest episode in a long-running battle between the IOC and the USOC. The USOC currently receives more revenue than every other national Olympic committee put together – historically 12.75 per cent of US broadcast revenues and around 20 per cent of the IOC's top-partner income. A growing number of IOC members have, in recent months, concluded that the distribution model is too skewed in favour of the Americans. The USOC counters that the United States provides the bulk of Olympic income through television rights fees – NBC paid US$893 million to broadcast last year's Beijing Games – and sponsorship income.
Ebersol, an Olympic veteran, added that he feared the dispute between the IOC and the USOC would harm Chicago's chances of securing the 2016 summer Games. The IOC is due to decide the venue in October. "This so unneccessarily reopens all the wounds," Ebersol said, referring to a temporary agreement reached two months ago between the two parties over future distribution of Olympic revenues. "Chicago will be impacted because the electorate that will decide will wonder what the USOC is up to and what the urgency was."
Quebec to replace roof on Montreal’s Olympic Stadium - 01 July 2010
Sportfive agrees Olympic deals in Azerbaijan - 19 January 2012
CCTV to cover Olympic Games in China - 29 March 2009
USA Gymnastics agree AEG tour deal - 26 April 2011
Cuban broadcaster acquires London 2012 rights - 19 January 2011
Related blog posts
Olympic marketing chief: sponsorship programme ‘nicely balanced’ - 03 February 2012, Notes & Insights
IOC expects to make more than $2 billion from US TV rights - 18 December 2009, Notes & Insights
Liverpool star in favour of Spanish move - 13 October 2009, Notes & Insights
Emirates Airline signs $56 million infrastructure deal - 11 October 2011, Notes & Insights
Manchester City chief outlines plans for financially prudent future - 19 November 2009, Notes & Insights