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NHL says Olympic participation not part of NBC deal

Feb. 12, 2010: A snowboarder flies through the Olympic rings during the opening ceremonies of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics.

Fred Lum/Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

The NHL says that its attendance at the Sochi 2014 Olympics was not a condition of its new 10-year deal with NBC. There was "no commitment from us relative to Olympics," John Collins, the NHL's chief operating officer of business and media, told the Globe & Mail in an email. It was "never discussed in negotiations" for the $2-billion agreement announced in April.

The comments come after news Tuesday that NBC Universal - the entity resulting from NBC's merger with Comcast - had won the U.S. media rights for the four Olympic Games starting in 2014 in Sochi, Russia. Most industry sources believe that NBC's win greatly enhances the chances of the NHL going to Russia. The league has strong objections to the amount of money, security and control it gets over its product at the Olympics, but the presence of its broadcast partner gives the league some assurance over its presentation, at least.

The NHL is encouraged by the signing made by its broadcast partner, the second in the past three major U.S. rights' negotiations that have been decided recently. A stronger NBC Universal means better promotion, a better affiliate network and advertising opportunities for the league. Having the Olympics on its U.S. cable comany Versus is also a plus.

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"It's a good, important win for them," Collins notes. "It makes their biz/platforms bigger, better... From a content/progression of their business it's important." Colins adds that the $4.38 billion agreement sends a "good signal to the marketplace (about) Comcast's commitment to quality programming."

NBC paid richly for the honour. Multiple sources report that the price tag was $4.38-billion (U.S.), thereby satisfying the International Olympic Committee's desire for an average of $1 billion per Olympiad. NBC, which has broadcast eight of the past ten Olympic Games, outbid both ESPN and FOX in a closed-bid process that began Monday in Switzerland. NBC's bid was reportedly almost a billion dollars more than FOX's bid for the four-Games package ($3.4 billion). ESPN bid-- for just the 2014/ 16 Games-- came in at $1.4 billion. While pricey, the bid was received positively on Wall Street in initial trading on company stock.

NBC's deal includes TV, digital and other rights that will be shown over the spectrum of NBC Universal's channels and multiple internet platforms. NBC's Chairman of Sports Mark Lazurus says that. while it will still repackage events for primetime, it has promised the IOC that all events will be available live on one of their platforms in the NBC Universal stable.

The lucrative deal could also foreshadow a successful U.S. Olympic bid for the 2020 Summer Olympics, said IOC president Jacques Rogge after the deal was announced.


Canadian Rights: The fact that the IOC was able to get their desired price in a poor U.S. economy says that Canadian broadcasters will likely get no discounts this time, despite Sochi's liabilities with its time zone and security issues. Estimates are that the bidding for the Canadian rights will happen in either July or August.

Canadian broadcast executives were generally non-committal about the implications of NBC's payment. CTV's president of programming and sports Phil King indicated that he saw no significance to the NHL in Sochi from NBC retaining Olympic rights. Asked the significance for Canadian IOC rights fees, King told Usual Suspects in an e-mail, "I guess it helps a bit." We asked CBC and Rogers Sportsnet for comment but had received no reply as of this writing.

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Forget the Bonus: Not everyone is happy about the winning bid. Ray Ratto of CSN tweets: "And so ends my plan for a raise before death RT @darrenrovell: $1.1 Billion is what NBC is roughly paying for 2012"


Who's That Masked Man?: On Saturday's broadcast of the Blue Jays' game in Baltimore the Rogers Sportsnet hosts Jamie Campbell and Greg Zaun were talking about how the "Vote Jose" t-shirts were being spotted around Baltimore (in support of the team's campaign to send star Jose Bautista to the all-star game as a starter). Sportsnet then cut to people walking outside Camden Yard wearing the Bautista t-shirt. One of them, Sportsnet has confirmed, was Rogers' employee Scott Carson, who writes a blog on the Sportsnet website and works in the booth during television broadcasts.

But the Sportsnet announcers never identified Carson as being a Rogers employee. Which would be a serious editorial oversight. We asked Sportsnet for comment on its failure to identify its employee. Spokesman Dave Rashford told us showing Carson without identification "is not approved company policy."


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How Things Change: Back when Usual Suspects was a meat puppet on TV, paternity leave was something your boss gave you when you had a DNA dilemma. If you were a male working in the business you could get a day, maybe two for the birth of a child then it was back to work. Which is a convoluted way of congratulating TSN Radio 1050 afternoon host James Cybulski and his wife Vanessa on the birth of their second daughter, Rielle, on Monday.

Cybulski, who has the task of challenging Bob McCown daily on Sportsnet Radio The FAN 590, is now taking two weeks paternity leave during the Stanley Cup finals. He says that TSN knew and approved of his leave when he was hired. It's a great life in the new country.


Serious Questions: Denver Post sportswriter Woody Paige - who's seen in Canada on ESPN' s Around the Horn, shown on TSN - has been accused of plagiarism by John Ourand of Sports Business Journal. Ourand noted on Twitter that his quotes in an April 4, 2011, piece about the early history of ESPN were "identical" to remarks reported in a Sunday Denver Post article.

"Hey @woodypaige. Did you really talk to Paul Maxwell? Or did you lift that quote from SBJ? Bad form to not list source... Here's the SBJ story that first featured the quote that looks identical to what's in @woodypaige's story"

That led Miami sportswriter Dan LeBatard, who also works for ESPN, to recall a 2009 column that he alleges Paige plagiarized. LeBatard discussed his charges back in a reader chat at the Miami Herald (where he worked) in September of 2009.

"Q: Is Woody Paige a big goofball when he isn't on Around the Horn? or is it just an act for TV

A: no, he's that….his career has kind of amazed me….my friend call him woody plaige….pre-internet, during a super bowl in miami, i went to ricky jackson's pahokee home….wrote scene…..described town….had a scene in which ricky was coming home with a big check for his family….a few days later, paige writes the same column….but he never went to the home and he just made up some bait shop and gave some black guy a quote in ridiculous black dialect….this was during denver news wars….the other denver paper called him out on it….even wrote a letter with both columns to the publisher, i think….but it was pre-internet so he never got in trouble…but the people at his paper have to know that he's pretty reckless."

Paige denies LeBatard's claim but, according to Michael Roberts of Denver Westword Blogs, Paige is apologetic for the Ourand quotes. "It was not done maliciously or to take credit for something I didn't do," Paige said. However, he adds, "It was my mistake. ... I talked to John and I apologized to him," Paige allows. "I told him it was a mistake, and he accepted that and said he enjoyed the column."


Sharp Deal: CBC has retained Canadian rights to the International Skating Union events, including the top international figure skating and speed skating events. For the next five years, CBC will control the ISU world championships and the Grand Prix events in figure skating. Plus it will have all the top speed skating events for Canada. The deal means more than 120 hours of coverage annually on CBC, CBC specialty channel bold TV, streaming online at and through a partnership with VisionTV (which is available in 10 million Canadian homes).


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