Reynolds Rap

Eyes on Copenhagen

10/01/2009 6:58 PM

Plenty of interested parties in the Second City — not to mention New York, Bristol and perhaps even Philadelphia — on how things will go in Copenhagen tomorrow.

That’s when International Olympic Committee members will choose among Tokyo, Rio de Janiero, Madrid and Chicago as the site for the 2016 Summer Games. Heads of state, including Mrs. Obama and her husband, taking time out from his health care push, are pressing the IOC flesh, with Oprah also throwing her ample weight behind the Chicago cause.

Oddsmakers make Chicago and Rio the favorites, the simple logic being that the 2012 Games will also be held in Europe, thereby hurting Madrid’s play. Similarly, Beijing just hosted the Summer Olympics last year, which greatly reduces Tokyo’s chances of IOC granting another Asian Games so quickly. Others say Rio has too much crime and Brazil’s hosting the 2014 World Cup, which could hurt sponsor outlays. That leaves Chitown and the States, whose networks do the Olympics right, especially in terms of rights fees.

How many more hundreds of millions of dollars will be bid in the subsequent rights process — which also includes the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia — if Chicago is anointed.

News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch, speaking at Goldman Sachs Communacopia conference in New York last month, said if Chicago’s in the Games it “would be very tempting, but I imagine the bidding will be high.” Murdoch went on to say that “in spite of all the propaganda and I don’t want to call anyone a liar, but nobody has ever made any money off of them [the Olympic Games].” That didn’t stop Murdoch from taking the plunge with the NFL, when he built the Fox broadcast network.

Speaking of pro football, ESPN won’t get to televise the Super Bowl for many moons, if ever, because of Americans’ inalienable right to watch the NFL championship on free TV, but the worldwide leader wants to add the rings to its sporting crown. But with an entry price in the billions, cable operators may not exactly be imbued with the Olympic spirit.

There were also reports last December that CBS and Turner Sports had held preliminary discussions about making a joint bid for the 2014 and 2016. The parties had paired on the telecasts of the 1992, 1994 and 1998 Winter Games.

Meanwhile, NBC, with a recent assist from its cable cousins, has been “America’s Olympic Network,” televising all of the Summer Olympics since 1988 and the Winter Games since 2002 in Salt Lake City. For the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta and all of the quadrennial competitions from 2000 to 2008, NBC paid some $3.5 billion for TV rights.

NBC  ponied up another $2.2 billion for the rights to the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver and the London Games in 2012, even though the sites had not been determined. News Corp. and ESPN/ABC also made plays for those properties.

The record Gold-winning performances by Michael Phelps in Beijing turned the 2008 Games into the most-watched TV event in U.S. history, which certainly raised the rights ante in the process.

Given a primetime-friendly schedule those numbers could fall in Chicago, with the event serving as fitting swan song for NBC Sports and Olympics chairman Dick Ebersol.

Of course, recent news about Comcast taking over, or entering into a joint venture with NBC Universal, could pluck the Peacock’s purse strings. Or, perhaps, the cable company would want to preen alongside its new property. After all, Chicago is Comcast country.

If Chicago wins, then the Games will really begin.

March