IOC, NBC bet big together through 2032

The subject first came up last November. This was in New York. It was over dinner at DeGrezia, a small Italian restaurant on East 50th Street that features many private rooms. The International Olympic Committee president, Thomas Bach, was in town to deliver a major political statement at the United Nations. While in New York, there was time for him — and a couple senior aides — to meet with a few top executives from the IOC’s longtime broadcast partner, NBC Universal. Thus this dinner.

NBC already held the rights to broadcast the rights to the Games in the United States through 2020. The IOC president knew this well.

What would you think, he said that evening, about the idea of a long-term partnership?

Brian L. Roberts, chairman and CEO of Comcast, and IOC president Thomas Bach, signing the $7.75 billion deal // photo courtesy IOC/Arnaud Meylan

This simple bet would launch a series of clandestine meetings — at The Olympic Club at the Sochi Games in February, and elsewhere — that culminated in Wednesday’s announcement of the $7.75 billion deal to extend NBC’s rights to the Games from 2021 through 2032.

That means six editions of the Olympics.

It is of course a financial play.

But it is so much more.

It is a fantastic triumph, professional and personal, for Bach.

It is a huge win for the entire Olympic movement, securing its financial future, in particular for the IOC and, too, for the U.S. Olympic Committee, which gets a share of the deal.

And it is a major coup for NBC, which secured the rights to the sports property that has for years, through ups and downs, given the network a consistent identity. The Olympics. no matter what, deliver ratings.

London 2012 was the most-watched television event in history, with 217 million viewers. Sochi 2014 was the “most-consumed” Winter Games ever. Even as technologies change, the Olympics drive numbers — whether in the broadcast or on emerging digital platforms — and, simply put, that’s why NBC was willing now to bet so much money into the future, the company’s executives said Wednesday.

Slightly more than half the viewers who watched Sochi 2014 on NBC also used a computer, a tablet device or a smartphone to get information about those Olympics while the TV was on, NBC has said.

It’s not just the IOC that is willing to make bets so far out into time. USA Track & Field three weeks ago announced a deal with Nike — believed to be worth about $500 million — through 2040.

And it’s not just NBC that is willing to pay big for live events.

ESPN has laid out $5.6 billion for Major League Baseball, $7.3 billion for a 12-year deal for the new college football playoff system, $15.2 billion for “Monday Night Football.”

CBS Sports and Turner Sports are paying $10.8 billion for 14 years — 2011 through 2024 — to show the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament.

Others, of course, have broadcast the Olympics — CBS, for instance, in the 1990s.

But over the years, only NBC — relying on its parent companies, first General Electric, now Comcast — has backed up its passionate commitment to the Olympics with really big money.

In two negotiations in 1995, it paid $3.5 billion for the rights to the Games from 2000 to 2008.

In 2000, for $2 billion, it bought the rights to the 2010 and 2012 Games. A GE sponsorship meant another $200 million.

In 2011, it paid $4.38 billion for 2014 through 2020.

The new deal, technically $7.65 billion for 2020-2032, includes a $100 million signing bonus to promote the Olympic movement from 2015 to 2020. Some significant chunk of that $100 million presumably will be used to help boost an Olympic channel that is now the subject of a feasibility study.

This new deal came together in a spirit evocative of the two 1995 deals — when Dick Ebersol headed NBC and Juan Antonio Samaranch the IOC, and it was all done quietly, without bids from other networks.

Here, too.

The 2011 process involved competitive bids, and for those tempted to ask why not this time, too, or to suggest that something might be amiss, there are realities that explain it elegantly.

Another thing Bach knew well is that in 2011 NBC outbid everyone else by a country mile. As a matter of fact, Fox was the only U.S. entity that even bid for four Games, the way NBC did. When NBC went big at $4.38 billion, Fox came in at $3.4 billion. ESPN opted only to bid for 2014 and 2016, and at $1.4 billion.

Accordingly, Bach knew to a certainty that in dealing with NBC he — that is, the IOC — was going to make money.

The new deal breaks down this way: $2.5 billion for 2022 and 2024. $2.55 billion for 2026 and 2028. $2.6 billion for 2030 and 2032.

On average, it represents a 15 percent increase per Games over the previous arrangement.

Really, though, that is not the deal point.

“This kind of deal is not only about money,” Bach said in a conference call with reporters.

“You know, you can maybe  — in one deal you can make one or the other dollar more and maybe have your product destroyed. We are thinking long-term in the IOC. We are here for 120 years, and we want to be there much longer. We want to leave a good legacy there to our successors.

“All these kind of strategic issues play a role. We have a responsibility. We are the trustees. We are the owners of the Olympic Games, yes, but we are the trustees of the Olympic movement. Therefore the balance has to be there between the protection of the Games, the promotion of our values and the financial consideration. There this deal reflects this consideration from our point of view in an excellent way.”

Going forward, it’s obvious — more than obvious — that this deal could in an excellent way boost the chances of a U.S. bid for the 2024 Summer Games. Indeed, Bach said Wednesday a “strong bid” from the U.S. would not only be “very much welcomed” but would be a “very strong competitor.”

To be super-obvious: if the principal broadcast partner of the IOC has put in more than $17 billion since those first deals were announced in 1995, has bankrolled the IOC with that kind of money, it will likely be made clear to everyone — particularly now that things are good again between the IOC and USOC — that the IOC would look favorably upon going to the United States, and for a Summer Games. In 2024.

Larry Probst, the USOC board chair and new IOC member, would only say Wednesday what he and Scott Blackmun, the USOC’s chief executive, have said for months — that the USOC is going through its process, and expects to have whittled down a list of potential applicant cities “sometime in the next few months.”

Los Angeles, Boston, Dallas and San Francisco are believed to be among cities under USOC scrutiny.

Other 2024 candidates from around the world are likely to include Paris but, frankly, it’s understood even in France that Paris could afford to run and lose. An American candidate would be in it to win, and win only, and there is a school of thought that announcing sooner in 2014 than later, particularly given this NBC deal, might well build up momentum that might be difficult indeed to beat.

The IOC will pick the 2024 winner in 2017.  It will pick a 2022 Winter Games site in 2015.

Bach, meanwhile, was elected president just last September, succeeding Jacques Rogge.

Since then, Bach has — at that United Nations appearance last November — outlined a clear vision for how sport and politics inhabit both separate but sometimes intertwined spheres of influence.

In February, he oversaw a Games in Sochi that — despite dire predictions from many beforehand and a $51 billion price tag — were generally an operational success.

He inherited roughly $900 million in reserves, a U.S. TV deal worth $4.38 billion and now has produced a new contract worth $7.75 billion. That means the IOC is and likely will be financially secure not only through his term, which presumably will run through 2025 but, incredibly, through 2032.

All this in but seven months since taking office.

Politically and financially, the IOC would now seem to be set for the next steps — all part of Bach’s big plan, aiming toward December and the IOC’s so-called “extraordinary session” in Monaco, when it will tackle the major issues that are part of what he has dubbed “Olympic Agenda 2020.”

In Sochi, the members floated 211 so-called “interventions” from the floor during their assembly. In Monaco, expect these major topics:

The Summer Games program; the bid process; autonomy and governance; and the structure of the IOC itself.

With this much cash now in hand, for instance, it’s plausible for the members to consider visits once again to cities bidding for the Games. If the IOC itself is paying for such visits, why not?

With this much cash in hand, for example, if the IOC is able to increase its outlay to an organizing committees for the Games to a level approaching or, better yet, over $1 million, isn’t it feasible to start considering a far more extensive use of temporary facilities? Bach has mentioned this notion many times over.

London got just over $750 million from the IOC in the 18 months ending Sept. 30, 2012, according to its March 2013 financial report. If an organizing committee got $250 or $500 million more, wouldn't that directly translate into less money spent on capital costs? Wouldn't that sensibly -- logically and easily -- be able to be explained to taxpayers, no matter where, that hundreds of thousands of dollars for a Games would be coming from the IOC, not from them?

“This is a happy day for the whole Olympic movement,” Bach said at the outset of that conference call, adding a moment later, without explanation, “We are happy for different reasons.”

You bet.

Like air in the tires or water in the bottles

My first nine years at the Los Angeles Times were spent covering hard news. The 1990s were incredible years to be a news reporter in Southern California: wildfires, earthquakes (Thursday marked the 19th anniversary of the devastating Northridge quake), riots, the Menendez brothers and, of course, the O.J. Simpson matter. When I moved over to the sports section in 1998, and almost immediately started covering the Olympic movement, a friend at the New York Times told me, referring to the athletes I was now covering, "You know, they're all doping."

That initially seemed -- implausible.

I learned quickly.

Indeed, and to be fair, not all of them were doping.

Then I met, for instance, Marion Jones.

And then others. Along the way, I covered the BALCO affair.

In 2005, and Lance Armstrong knows this, because I have told him about it, I took my wife and three children to Paris to watch him cross the finish line on the Champs Élysées, a winner of the Tour de France for a record seventh time.

You might want to remember this, kids, I told them then. For a lot of reasons.

Did I know that day in Paris that Armstrong was a cheater? After everything I had learned by then, it was patently obvious it would be inordinately difficult to win the Tour -- especially the years Armstrong was riding -- without performance-enhancing drugs, in particular the blood-booster EPO.

But where was the proof?

The proof came the next year, in the form of tests, testimony and other documents that emerged in the course of litigation over a bonus Armstrong claimed for the 2004 Tour from a Texas company, SCA Promotions, Inc. In the course of my reporting, it became clear what was what. Even so, the case had been settled, with SCA agreeing to pay millions of dollars.

The Times printed what it could.

In our house, the truth of the matter was understood.

As was this: truth always emerges with time.

Everyone who ever watched Lance Armstrong ride the bike took a hesitant step toward the truth Thursday with the first of his two-part interview with Oprah Winfrey. Part two airs Friday.

To be clear, the 90-minute Oprah show Thursday is nowhere near a full and complete accounting of the record. Armstrong did not, for instance, address what really happened in a hospital room in Indianapolis in October, 1996 -- when Betsy Andreu, the wife of a teammate, says he admitted illicit drug use.

Though he admitted in Thursday's show to doping through his Tour wins, Armstrong did not name names. One can only imagine the advice his lawyers -- understandably viewing the possibility of millions of dollars of civil liability, not to mention the possibility of criminal exposure -- gave him before he went on-camera.

Of all the things that were so striking -- and different people will of course see things differently -- it wasn't just Armstrong's affect, which often came off in this first part of the interview as flat, or that he acknowledged the way he so readily bullied so many people, Betsy Andreu and others.

It was the matter-of-factness about the doping.

It was, he said, like air in the tires or water in the bottles.

Moreover, he said, he didn't consider doping cheating -- even though he also did acknowledge that the oxygen-boosting drugs he was taking were, in his words, "incredibly beneficial."

Further, he never really worried about getting caught. Even though he was, in 1999, for instance, with a corticosteroid positive -- which got explained away.

He said he viewed doping as leveling the playing field.

He said he looked up what it meant to "cheat," and it said "to gain an advantage on a rival or a foe," adding in an implication that his significant rivals in the field were doping as well, " I didn't do that."


Cheating means breaking the rules.

It's also absurd to assert that a race among dopers is a level playing field. As another of Armstrong's former teammates, Jonathan Vaughters, has explained, there are three reasons why:

One -- Athlete A might get a bigger boost than Athlete B from using the same doping technique. Two -- Athlete A  might physiologically adapt better to a particular drug than Athlete B. Three -- athletes with greater resources are typically going to have access to better doctors, better coaches and better drugs.

At the time he was cheating, Armstrong said, he didn't feel bad about cheating at all. Not in the least.

Let's be candid. The primary reason Armstrong is talking now is because he wants to compete in triathlons, and he can't because he has a life ban hanging over him because he got caught.

Why did he get caught? Because the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency pursued the truth when others -- including the U.S. Attorney's office in Los Angeles -- would not. Why that office last year mysteriously dropped an inquiry into Armstrong's conduct remains an open question.

If Armstrong's comments to Winfrey awaken the rest of America -- and, indeed, the world -- to the culture of doping that has beset not just cycling but track and field as well as baseball and other sports for far too many years, then it will have done good.

A culture that considers doping like air in the tires or water in the bottles is insidious, and must change -- or be changed by others who understand better not just what is right but what is good about sports.

As far as Lance himself -- he knows already that this public-relations ploy isn't going to get him where he wants to go. But as he explained on-air, he has thrived on control, and this is a way for him to test what it's like to tell the truth.

To see the tape of himself on the podium in 2005, to relive that day in Paris, when he was given the microphone and said, "I'm sorry you can't dream big and I'm sorry you don't believe in miracles" -- it's all so awkward now, even ugly, perhaps for him as well, because as he told Oprah, "Watching that -- that's a mistake."

But this is the crux of it:

What was the real mistake?


Or -- getting caught?

“Tonight," the chief executive of USADA, Travis Tygart, said in a statement issued after the television show aired, "Lance Armstrong finally acknowledged that his cycling career was built on a powerful combination of doping and deceit.

"His admission that he doped throughout his career is a small step in the right direction. But if he is sincere in his desire to correct his past mistakes, he will testify under oath about the full extent of his doping activities.”




Lance Armstrong, and the time for accountability

There are two plays going on in the matter of Lance Armstrong. One is to the court of public opinion. That's why he's talking to Oprah Winfrey. It's good for ratings, probably, but substantively may ultimately prove little. Lance Armstrong got caught in a big lie and now he wants something, so anything he says publicly has to be measured against what he wants.

Which leads directly to the second play: Lance Armstrong wants to compete again. To be clear, his cycling career is done. It's not that. Instead, he wants to compete in triathlons.

And so he's trying to figure out how to do that.

The challenge is that the one thing that has always been the hallmark of the Armstrong way has been stripped from him.

Which is: control.

In its damning report, issued in October, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency made plain that Armstrong had "ultimate control" over his own drug use, and the doping culture of his team, which it made plain was the most sophisticated and well-run scheme in sports history.

In particular, he controlled -- there was a code of silence on his team -- the fact that he doped to win.

As it all came crashing down, Armstrong sent out by Twitter the photo of himself lying around with his seven framed Tour de France jerseys.

The message could not have been more clear: Lance, king of the Alps, believed he was still in control.

That was a fundamental miscalculation.

You can bet that he and his legal team were stunned not only to see the riders he thought were his guys turn against him but, more important, the breadth and depth of the file USADA made public.

That was the game-changer.

Now, with sponsors fleeing or gone, he has to try to assert control of his narrative.

Thus, Oprah.

But choosing the time, place and manner of your "admission" -- or whatever this turns out to be -- is not real.

What's real is testimony, delivered under oath, preferably subject to cross-examination. Anything else is just noise.

If you want to lie under those circumstances -- like Armstrong did in 2006, when in connection with a contract dispute brought by the Texas company SCA Promotions, Inc., relating to a 2004 Tour de France bonus payment -- then you get to face the consequences.

Which is one of the tap-dances Armstrong has to try to perform now, and why anything he tells Oprah ought to be measured against what he said under oath six years ago.

It's not enough to be apologetic, or deliver contrition, or offer a confession of sorts.

Now is the time for accountability.

It's this way when it goes bad on Wall Street and in lots of other areas of American life. The authorities can get involved, and they might or might not have their own ideas about your finances, sometimes even your liberty interest, and then you have to play by their rules, not yours.

This is how these things go. This is what USADA has made clear, and why -- according to the New York Times -- Armstrong is in discussions with the U.S. Department of Justice to possibly testify in a federal whistle-blower case involving the U.S. Postal Service team.

It's not hard to figure out what USADA and the public authorities want to know: who funded the scheme and who else knew about it, and at what levels -- how high -- in international sport.

If you think about it, that thread of inquiry is not so different from the kind of thing you might find at your local courthouse. Imagine a drug case involving, say, methamphetamine or marijuana -- the cops and prosecutors are typically far more interested not just in the end user but in the financiers and in the protection.

Meanwhile, the International Olympic Committee, which is even now engaged in a far-reaching review of the roughly two dozen sports on the Summer Games calendar, has to be looking at what is going on in cycling with renewed interest. Baseball was kicked off the Olympic program in no small measure because of doping-related issues.

If it seems far-fetched to imagine the Olympics without cycling, it does not seem like much of a stretch to imagine cycling's top officials under intense scrutiny in the coming weeks and months, with even their IOC privileges at issue. USADA and the World Anti-Doping Agency both made plain Tuesday that they would offer no cooperation with an "independent commission" being set up by cycling's international governing body, which goes by the acronym UCI.

In the long run, the only thing that will clean up up the sport itself is, as USADA has proposed, a "Truth and Reconciliation" and amnesty program.

In the meantime, Armstrong is not going to get out of a lifetime ban by talking to Oprah. That's just -- ridiculous.

It's what he has to say when he's not on television that matters. And that's going to take a while yet to unfold.

That said, a read of the World Anti-Doping Code strongly suggests that even if he were to name names -- even big names -- the best he could do is, first, get a hearing and then, maybe, get life knocked down to eight years.

Armstrong is now 41. Eight years makes him 49.

Which sort of makes you wonder what the Oprah thing is really all about. And when, if ever, Lance Armstrong is going to tell the whole truth, and nothing but.

Because that would be a show worth watching.