Dick Ebersol, the longtime leader of NBC Sports and Olympic advocate, has resigned after failing to come to terms on a contract extension.
Mark Lazarus, the former Turner executive who recently was tapped as NBC Sports Cable Group president, will succeed Ebersol as chairman of the NBC Sports Group.
Ebersol's impending exit comes a little over three months after Comcast gained control of the NBC Universal joint venture and just weeks ahead of the bidding for the U.S. media rights to the 2014 and 2016 Olympic Games.
Ebersol -- who has been with NBC for some 40 years, including stints in news and entertainment, including time spent co-creating Saturday Night Live with Lorne Michaels -- will remain at NBCU through the end of June. Ebersol, an acclaimed story-teller and Emmy-winner, has been in charge of NBC Sports since 1989, producing eight of the most-watched events in U.S. TV history.
He will not, however, journey to Lausanne, Switzerland next month, when Comcast's group will join ESPN and Fox in attempting to secure rights to the upcoming Olympics.
An NBCU spokesman confirmed that Comcast CEO Brian Roberts had spoken with Richard Carrion, the IOC board member in charge of negotiating U.S. rights, about Ebersol's departure. Carrion told The Associated Press that Roberts "assured me they are 100 percent committed to the Olympics and the rights process."
NBC, which lost $223 million on the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, holds the U.S. rights to the Summer Games in London in 2012. The producer of the last eight Olympiads in the States, Ebersol will not add a ninth to his credit. His contract was set to conclude at the end of next year.
Now, the IOC is reportedly looking to secure some $2.2 billion or more for the rights to the next two Games, and may entertain auction offers that extend to the competitions in 2018 and 2020 as well.
Lazarus, whom NBCU CEO Steve Burke hired to head the cable sports operation and be groomed as the leader of the division somewhere down the line, will -- as scheduled -- be part of the Comcast/NBCU team embarking on the Swiss trip. Roberts will also be part of that contingent that will look to win the rights auction on June 6-7.
Olympic bidding aside, Lazarus and the NBC Sports Group has much work ahead of it, including the renaming of national cable service Versus, as well as the 10 regional sports networks currently sporting the Comcast SportsNet banner. Since the merger, the broadcast network has been working closely with Golf Channel, with the twosome now presenting their coverage on the broadcaster's air under the moniker, "Golf Channel on NBC."
Among other events, Versus and NBC have been collaborating on the presentation of thoroughbred horse racing's Triple Crown and recently inked a package with the famed Saratoga Springs race track in New York for coverage of its summer meet.
Of course, the two are now officially on the same line as the national carriers of the NHL. Indeed, the final rights deal under Ebersol's watch is the $2 billion, 10-year pact NBC and Versus struck with the puck sport in April.
Earlier this month, NBC and Versus were outbid by a ESPN and Fox's combined gambit worth an estimated $3 billion in which they scored a 12-year deal for the national broadcast and cable rights to the expanded Pac-12 Conference.
Under Ebersol's leadership, NBC held rights to the National Basketball Association at the height of the league's popularity during the Michael Jordan era.
The Peacock also lost and regained rights to the National Football League, with its current Sunday Night Football package the sport's ratings leader, averaging 21.8 million viewers per contest. That made SNF the No. 1 show in primetime -- among viewers 2+, all key adult and male demos -- marking the first time since the advent of people meters in 1987 that a sports series has been the most-watched show from the start of the primetime TV season to the end of the NFL regular season, defeating its competition each week, according to Nielsen.
Ebersol's life was struck by tragedy in 2004 when a plane crash, in which he was badly injured, claimed the life of his youngest son.
Married to actress Susan St. James, Ebersol, though, will be remembered best for his love of the Games. NBC, has televised every Summer Olympics since Seoul in 1988 and all of the Winter Games since Salt Lake City in 2002. NBC's coverage of the 2008 Summer Games, aided by the phenomenon known as Michael Phelps, ranks as the most-watched TV event in U.S. history, amassing some 215 million viewers over the course of that quadrennial.
"Dick Ebersol is an incredible talent whose contributions to the company over the last four decades in sports, news and entertainment are unsurpassed," said Burke in a statement. "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."
Noted Ebersol: "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."
Commenting on Lazarus' rise, Burke said: "Mark 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."
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