May 19, 2024

NBC Executive Who Delivered Olympics Quits

Mr. Ebersol, 63, has had a colorful television career in everything from sports to comedy, and a personal life marked by the death of a young son and his own near-death in a plane crash.

But he has been best known for his work with the Olympics, and his departure could significantly change what is expected to be a vigorous battle for the television rights for the next two Games. On June 6, he was to lead a contingent of executives from NBC and its parent company, Comcast, to Lausanne, Switzerland, for an auction for the 2014 and 2016 Olympics. He will not be making that trip.

“If I wasn’t going to produce them,” he said Thursday, “I wasn’t going to be part of the process.”

This will be Comcast’s first Olympic bid since the company took over NBC Universal earlier this year.

No executive since Roone Arledge of ABC Sports, once Mr. Ebersol’s mentor, has been more closely identified with the Olympics than Mr. Ebersol.

He developed a close friendship with Juan Antonio Samaranch, the former president of the International Olympic Committee. He controlled the Games’ production, oversaw their storytelling and expanded on Arledge’s tape-delay approach of showing major Olympic sports to get the highest ratings in prime time — the subject of some of the most vocal criticism of his career. He usually ignored the complaints because the practice was good business.

He followed Mr. Arledge’s lead in personalizing Olympic athletes, believing that viewers would be attracted to stories about competitors from around the world.

He had led the bidding for the Olympics since he acquired the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta. In 1995, he made a stealthy trip to see Samaranch in Sweden to grab the 2000 and 2002 Summer and Winter Games, and just months later, orchestrated a pre-emptive bid for three more Olympics through 2008.

He spent billions in the service of beating the competition in prime time.

The effect of Mr. Ebersol’s resignation on Comcast’s ardor for the Olympics is not yet clear.

It will compete with ESPN, a unit of the Walt Disney Company, and Fox Sports, part of News. Corp., at the auction. Both lost in 2003 when NBC lavishly outbid them with a $2.2 billion offer for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games and 2012 London Summer Games. Comcast heads into the auction a little cautious; NBC lost $223 million on the Vancouver broadcast.

“Look, we’re not crazy about the timing,” said Richard Carrion, the I.O.C. member who is in charge of the bidding. “I’m a little saddened by the news. I can’t tell you I’m happy. Dick is a great friend of the Olympic movement; he understands it, and knows how to tell the stories.”

But David Hill, chairman of the Fox Sports Media Group, said: “I love Dick to death, but I don’t think his absence will make a skerrick of difference. They have a natural leader in Mark Lazarus; he’s smart, savvy and experienced.”

Mr. Lazarus was named to replace Mr. Ebersol as chairman of the NBC Sports Group.

Mr. Ebersol’s career began at ABC Sports, where he met Mr. Arledge. He joined NBC in 1975 as an entertainment executive. He was charged with creating a program to fill the late-night hours, which became “Saturday Night Live.” His biggest contribution was to hire Lorne Michaels to produce it. When Mr. Michaels briefly left the show in the 1980s and the show teetered close to cancellation, Mr. Ebersol became its producer.

He left NBC to create an independent production company that produced, among other programs, “Friday Night Videos,” and “Later,” a talk show with Bob Costas.

Mr. Ebersol returned to NBC to run its sports division in 1989. He acquired the rights to the N.B.A. to make up, in part, for the loss of Major League Baseball, a former mainstay at the network.

Over his 22-year tenure, he eventually dropped N.B.A. rights; retained, dropped, then reacquired the rights to the N.F.L.; ventured into a money-losing partnership with World Wrestling Entertainment on the XFL, a bizarre football league; brought baseball back to NBC, then got out; and dove into Nascar before dropping the sport.

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