When Tom Welch heard the unexpected news that NBC wanted to pay a record $545 million for the television rights to the 2002 Winter Games, he breathed a huge sigh of relief.
The head of the Salt Lake Olympic Organizing Committee found out about the network's surprise pre-emptive bid when he got a telephone call last Friday from International Olympic Committee member Richard Pound, who signed the deal."He said he was going to make us very happy and very rich. I asked how rich and when he told me, I said, `That's enough,' " Welch said. Relief was the only emotion Welch said he felt during his conversation with Pound.
Salt Lake Olympic organizers didn't even expect to sell the American television rights for another two years or so, and then counted on getting only $400 million.
Welch said he was worried how recently announced changes in ownership at two of the three networks expected to bid for the Olympics would affect that amount.
"As late as last week, I was concerned with what was happening at CBS and ABC with the new ownership and what their philosophy would be toward the Olympics," he said.
NBC didn't wait to wonder. The network took advantage of the situation by making the IOC an unprecedented offer for the rights to broadcast both the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney, Australia, and the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City.
Last week, just after Disney announced a merger with Capital Cities/ABC, and Westinghouse its $5 billion acquisition of CBS, NBC officials hustled around the world to close the Olympics deal.
NBC Sports President Dick Ebersol said he was making preparations in Atlanta for the network's broadcast of the 1996 Summer Games when he got a call from network president Bob Wright to come back to New York.
Bids for the Sydney Games were supposed to be considered by the IOC in September, and Wright wanted to review NBC's proposal with Ebersol before leaving for vacation.
It was during that meeting lastWednesday, Ebersol said, that the plan was hatched to bid early for both the 2000 Summer Games and the 2002 Winter Games.
Within a few hours, Ebersol and other network executives were on a corporate plane bound for an international track meet in Sweden, where they hoped to pitch the deal to IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch and Pound.
Arriving Thursday, they hid out in a hotel room until they could see Samaranch. Ebersol said the IOC president "was quite taken" with the deal and suggested they take it to Pound - who was home in Montreal.
That meant another trip across the ocean. Within an hour of landing in Canada, the NBC negotiators were behind closed doors with Pound, outlining a take-it-or-leave it deal that totaled $1.27 billion.
The deal provided $545 million for Salt Lake City, and $705 million for Sydney, as well as $10 million in network advertising time to each Olympic city.
NBC agreed to expand its Olympic coverage by also showing events on its two cable channels, CNBC and America's Talking, and by airing a weekly, half-hour Olympic program from 1996 through 2002.
Pound said the IOC didn't anticipate a pre-emptive offer, but was ready and willing to take advantage of it. "It was too good not to say yes," Pound said. The deal was signed at 4 p.m. on Friday.
The IOC does not have a set process for choosing the network that will air the Olympics. `We don't have anything that's cast in stone as to how we do this," Pound said.
It's best, he said, "to be as flexible as you can and to make whatever deal you think is the right deal at the right time."
Salt Lake City and Sydney will keep 60 percent of the money earned from the deal. The remaining 40 percent goes to the IOC and the host country's Olympic committee.
The $545 million paid for the rights to Salt Lake City means about $89 million more for Olympic organizers here, money they say will be kept in reserve to cover unexpected increases in costs.
"Prudence would indicate reserving whatever anticipated surplus we have until we know what the costs will be. And that won't be until 2002," said Frank Joklik, chairman of the organizing committee board of trustees.
The windfall will likely continue. The European television rights were budgeted to sell for $126 million. Now, organizing committee officials say, they could go for much more.
YEAR LOCATION MILLION DOLLARS
U.S. rights only
2002 Salt Lake City 545.0
1998 Nagano, Japan 375.0
1994 Lillehammer, Norway 295.0
1992 Albertville, France 243.0
1988 Calgary, Canada 309.0
1984 Sarajevo, Yugoslavia 91.3
1980 Lake Placid, New York 20.7
1976 Innsbruck, Austria 11.6
1972 Sapporo, Japan 8.5
1968 Grenoble, France 2.6
SOURCE: Wire service reports and Sport Intern