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It's Game On After Comcast Scores NHL

Shelling out $2 billion for rights to NHL hockey games hardly makes Comcast look cheap.

There has been a lot of chattering about whether Dick Ebersol and his NBC Sports Group will have the wherewithal to win bidding wars for the TV rights to major sports properties under its new owner. Most of the discussion has focused on the Olympics, a much more  expensive proposition, but an event that has defined NBC Sports’ reputation and Ebersol’s career.

Comcast doesn’t have a reputation as a big spender, although it did make a big bet in buying NBCU. And though huge, GE, which despite selling a majority stake in NBCU to Comcast still owns 49%, is hardly known for being profligate.

Sports programming is racking up growing ratings, a rarity in an increasingly on-demand, DVR’d TV world, and rights fees are jumping as all the big players-ESPN, Fox, Turner, Comcast and even CBS more aggressively look to upgrade their cable rosters.  Comcast’s NBC is s paying double for the NHL in its new deal. If it really plans on taking on ESPN as a cable sports powerhouse, it couldn’t afford to lose the NHL, Versus’ only major professional league. Fox recently paid a 355% increase to re-up with the Big 12 college conference. Next up is the rights to the Pac-12 and NBC is reportedly among those interested.

During yesterday’s conference call announcing the NHL deal, Ebersol noted that TV is Comcast’s only business compared to GE’s far-flung global interests. Yet is was those global interests-selling medical imaging equipment worldwide for example– that made its huge investment in the Olympics worthwhile.  Nevertheless, when the accounting came in, NBCU lost $223 million on the 2010 Vancouver Winter games for which it paid $822 million for rights fees, plus million more for production.

How much will Comcast let Ebersol bid on the Olympics?

“They are looking to make sure that every aspect has been evaluated, that we’re going to make money, and I don’t ever believe I’m ever going to be let out of the building unless we can show them we’re going to make money,” Ebersol said.