Olympic notes

Podiums belong to the Peacock

NBC calls $4.38b offer ‘comfortable’

By John Powers
Globe Staff / June 21, 2011

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After the network lost $223 million on last year’s Winter Games in Vancouver and figures to be $250 million in the red for London next year, NBC’s $4.38 billion four-pack bid for the 2014-20 Olympics was an exceptionally bold move, particularly since the final two sites haven’t been determined.

There’d been speculation that since cost-conscious Comcast had bought the majority stake in the company and longtime NBC Universal chief Dick Ebersol had resigned last month that the Peacock would fold its feathers and let Fox or ESPN step in. Instead, NBC blew its rivals out of the water, putting up nearly a billion dollars more than Fox offered.

“The Olympics are in their DNA’’, observed International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge. Indeed, NBC has broadcast the last six Games and paid $1.18 billion for 2012.

Still, it was a surprise that the network would make such a hefty commitment in such challenging economic times, with little chance that any of the Games would be in North America. ESPN, which has plenty of cash and rarely is bashful about spending it, wouldn’t bid on more than two Games, and for only $1.4 billion, saying that anything more would not have made good business sense. Both the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, a remote Russian resort on the Black Sea, and the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro will be expensive to broadcast. The 2018 Winter Games, which will be awarded next month, likely will go to the Korean resort of Pyeongchang and the 2020 Summer Olympics venue won’t be selected until 2013.

Yet Comcast chairman Brian Roberts declared himself “very comfortable’’ with his firm’s payout of $775 million for 2014, $1.226 billion for 2016, $963 million for 2018, and $1.418 billion for 2020. There’s undoubtedly comfort in knowing NBC will continue its five-ringed monopoly for nearly another decade and that it will have rights not only to present distribution platforms, but also to any developed in the future. One change for 2014 and beyond: NBC will show every event live, either on TV or the Internet.

Besides the IOC, which gets a hefty chunk of its revenues from American TV rights, the big winner here is the US Olympic Committee, which will reap $558 million under the current formula, which is being renegotiated. Many IOC members believe the USOC’s 12.75 percent cut of TV rights fees and 20 percent share of worldwide sponsorship revenues is too rich and the dispute contributed to Chicago’s first-round smackdown in the voting for 2016. A new deal may well be in place before next month’s IOC meeting in South Africa.

“We are getting closer and closer,’’ said Olympic marketing commission chairman Gerhard Heiberg. “We are down to small points.’’

Back in town The top three men’s finishers from this year’s Boston Marathon are returning for Sunday’s inaugural BAA 10K race in the Back Bay, which will be roughly the distance from the mile leading up Heartbreak Hill to Copley Square. Kenya’s Geoffrey Mutai, who ran a shocking world-best 2 hours, 3 minutes, and 2 seconds, will be challenged again by countryman Moses Mosop and Ethiopia’s Gebre Gebremariam. Kenya’s Caroline Kilel, the women’s champion, will be up against Providence College product Kim Smith, who was leading at 18 miles on Patriots Day before dropping out with a torn calf muscle. Also in the field are former Boston champs Bill Rodgers and Joan Benoit Samuelson, and Bobbi Gibb, who made history in 1966 as the first woman to complete the race . . . Michael Phelps, who once owned the 200-meter butterfly, absorbed his third straight loss in the event in last weekend’s Santa Clara Grand Prix, losing by .01 seconds to Australia’s Nicholas D’Arcy. Phelps, who won the grueling race at the last two Olympics and four world championships, had been training at altitude while prepping for next month’s world championships in Shanghai and has progressed, he said, from “Nowhereland’’ to “Somewhereland.’’ Phelps, who won’t try for a repeat of his eight golds at the London Games, will swim at least five events at the global meet and could compete in another couple of relays . . . By winning the US titles in the 10-kilometer open swim, Harvard grad Alex Meyer (last year’s 25K global titlist) and Yale freshman-to-be Eva Fabian of Keene, N.H., also earned tickets to Shanghai. If Fabian makes the podium there, she’ll be the first American female medalist in the event.

Caught Flatt-footed Rachael Flatt was reprimanded and fined by US Figure Skating for not telling association officials that she had a stress fracture in her right tibia before April’s world championships in Moscow. Had they known, they could have alerted alternate Mirai Nagasu, who likely would have fared better than Flatt’s 12th-place showing. Had Nagasu even placed eighth, the United States would have increased its women’s entries to three for next year’s event . . . With women’s boxing debuting at next year’s Games, this week’s US championships in Colorado Springs have gone co-ed. Five world medalists, most notably five-time national titlist Marlen Esparza, will be vying for trials berths in the three Olympic events this summer in Mobile, Ala. Top names on the men’s side are Beijing veteran Raynell Williams and Michael Hunter, who won the 2008 trials but didn’t qualify for the Games . . . Penn State wrestling coach Cael Sanderson, who hadn’t competed since he won an Olympic gold medal in 2004, successfully scratched his seven-year itch recently when he upset former world silver medalist Jake Herbert to make the US freestyle team for September’s world championships in Istanbul just two nights after he’d been enshrined in the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.

Smooth strokes Ken Jurkowski’s bronze medal in Sunday’s World Cup single sculls in Hamburg earned him a spot on the US team for this summer’s world rowing championships in Slovenia. Already claiming tickets on the women’s team based on their Cup finishes in Munich are the pair of Meghan Musnicki and former world champion Susan Francia, the double of Kate Bertko and Sarah Trowbridge, and the lightweight double of Julie Nichols and Kristin Hedstrom of Concord, Mass., who won gold at Hamburg . . . After not competing together at the global level for two years, Olympic champions Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh came agonizingly close to winning their fourth world beach volleyball title in Rome last weekend, losing to Brazil’s Larissa Franca and Juliana Silva after holding match point . . . They did it the hard way, but the US women’s water polo team won its sixth World League Super Final crown in China last weekend, rallying to beat Australia and Italy in its final two matches. The Americans, who’ve ruled the world since they finished second to the Dutch at the 2008 Olympics, will be favored to retain their title at next month’s global tournament in Shanghai . . . Three local colleges are among the 41 honored by the USOC for providing athletes or coaches for the 2008 and 2010 American teams. Boston College’s Molly Schaus and Kelli Stack won silver medals with the women’s ice hockey team, for whom Northeastern’s Dave Flint was an assistant, and Harvard’s Emily Cross won a silver in fencing.

Classy or cheesy? London’s Olympic torch will have a triangular shape, symbolizing the city’s third time as host. The golden aluminum mesh tube, which the Daily Telegraph likened to “an expensive cheesegrater,’’ has 8,000 holes, representing the number of miles and torchbearers along the route . . . After an instant uproar greeted its decision to make female players wear skirts or dresses, even over shorts, at major events, the world badminton federation has decided to study the issue until the end of the year. The idea, which was meant to “ensure attractive presentation,’’ was widely criticized as sexist . . . Former Olympic decathlete Dan O’Brien and gymnasts Chellsie Memmel and David Durante were featured performance artists at the recent Venice Biennale, albeit on unusual venues. O’Brien ran on a treadmill superimposed on the track of an overturned tank, and Memmel and Durante did routines on wooden replicas of business-class airplane seats.

John Powers can be reached at Material from Olympic committees, international and domestic sports federations, personal interviews, and wire services was used in this report.