Merger would unite USOC network rivals

Updated: November 16, 2009, 6:16 PM ET
Associated Press

DENVER -- NBC might have a partner in the cable company that wanted to be its Olympic rival.

Cable giant Comcast Corp. is expected to purchase NBC Universal, a transaction that would merge the two TV companies that were at odds over the U.S. Olympic Committee's plans to start its own network.

Two people familiar with the deals told The Associated Press the USOC still supports the concept of an Olympic network, though it would not move forward before it had an agreement with the International Olympic Committee.

In July, the USOC announced it was partnering with Comcast to start an Olympic network, which would have been in competition with NBC and cable partner Universal Sports -- the networks that carry almost all of America's Olympic-sports programming.

A month after its announcement, the USOC placed the project on hold after complaints from IOC members who worried how the new network would impact relationships with NBC.

NBC has televised the last five Olympics. It is paying $2.2 billion to air the 2010 and 2012 Games, which accounts for the biggest single source of IOC revenue.

Now, NBC and Comcast could be partners, which might bring them together on the USOC project, if it goes forward. One person familiar with the plan said the USOC network would be based on the business model used by the MLB Network, which brings in revenue from cable subscriber fees.

"While it would be inappropriate for us to comment on the potential Comcast-NBC deal, we are supportive of any initiative that increases exposure for Olympic sport and athletes," USOC spokesman Patrick Sandusky said.

NBC Universal Sports and Olympics chairman Dick Ebersol declined comment.

Along with the IOC complaints, programming was among the big hurdles to clear for the potential new network, in large part because NBC and Universal had contracts to air most of the key events from the high-profile Olympic sports. If Comcast and NBC Universal come together, it's conceivable that NBC Universal's programming and Comcast's business model could blend to form the USOC network.

Ebersol said recently he expects NBC to bid for the 2014-16 Olympics package. Bidding could begin after next February's Vancouver Olympics. With details of Comcast's potential purchase of NBC Universal expected to take at least a year to wrap up, it's hard to speculate on how that deal would affect NBC's position in the bidding.

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press