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IOC, Networks Meet About U.S. TV Rights

January 15, 2003

NEW YORK (AP) _ Let the Olympic bidding begin. For the TV rights, that is.

Representatives of ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, ESPN and Turner Sports met separately Monday and Tuesday with members of the International Olympic Committee for what the IOC called ``a fact-finding mission.″

It’s a prelude to the first multinetwork Olympic rights bidding in a decade. In July 1993, NBC outbid ABC and CBS in a sort of one-day auction and paid $456 million for the U.S. rights to the 1996 Atlanta Games. In January 1994, CBS was the lone bidder for the 1998 Olympics after NBC, ABC and Fox dropped out.

Since then, NBC and the IOC worked out deals worth a total of $3.5 billion for the 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2008 Olympics _ without other networks getting a chance to bid.

No offers were solicited at this week’s meetings, two TV industry sources told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

Instead, the sources said, the talks were about how the rights negotiations will be organized. No calendar has been set yet, although one source said bidding could take place later this year.

And it might not just be for the next available games, the 2010 Winter Olympics, that source said. It’s possible those games could be packaged with the 2012, 2014 and 2016 Olympics.

NBC has allowed a series of major sports rights deals to expire in recent years, including the NFL, NBA and major league baseball. Along with NASCAR and horse racing’s Triple Crown, the Olympics are that network’s key sports programming.

And NBC says it makes money on the Olympics _ a rarity in sports deals these days.

Despite the lowest Olympic ratings since the 1960s, the 2000 Sydney Games made a profit in the tens of millions of dollars, while last year’s Salt Lake City Games made about $75 million, NBC said.

NBC Sports VP Kevin Sullivan wouldn’t comment Tuesday about this week’s talks with the IOC, nor would most of the networks.

``We’d be interested in it if it makes good business sense for us,″ ESPN spokesman Josh Krulewitz said.

IOC president Jacques Rogge took over as head of the panel in charge of TV rights, but he isn’t involved at this stage.

``This will be an open process,″ Rogge said in October. ``We will not have a private agreement with one company without giving the other companies a chance to bid. It will be an open and fair system, an auction.″

The IOC delegation was led by Richard Carrion, head of the finance commission.

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