The news that NBC had launched a pre-emptive strike and won the North American rights to both the 2002 Winter Olympics and the 2000 Summer Games sent shock waves through its competitors.
Not to mention the competitors of the soon-to-be local NBC affiliate KSL-Channel 5.CBS and ABC, both of whom were expected to mount bids for one or both games, responded with "no comment" to NBC's successful $1.25 billion bid for Salt Lake's Winter Games in 2002 and Sydney, Australia's Summer Games in 2000. Fox would say only, "We wish NBC well."
At non-NBC stations in Salt Lake City, the feeling was a mixture of shock and disappointment. Shock because of the amount that NBC will be paying, and disappointment because it means they're effectively shut out of covering the 2002 Games themselves.
(No local stations are accredited to the Olympic events, meaning that only the station whose network has the rights to the Games will have video of the events.)
"It's incredible. I'm still in shock," said John Bailey, KUTV-Channel 2's vice president of programming and sales.
The news came as a particularly bitter pill at Channel 2. After almost 35 years as the local NBC affiliate, the station is in the process of being sold to Westing-house/CBS. Sometime in the next few weeks, Channel 2 will become a CBS outlet and KSL-Channel 5 will become the new NBC affiliate.
"Sure, we're disappointed," Bailey said Monday. "It's great for NBC and for KSL, but it's especially hard for us after all our years with NBC."
"That is unbelievable," said Peter Mathes, KTVX-Channel 4's vice president and general manager, when told of the figures involved in NBC's deal. He admitted that he was disappointed that ABC didn't get the rights to Salt Lake City's 2002 Games, particularly because of last week's announcement of ABC's acquisition by Disney - and Disney's announced commitment to sports programming.
"After Disney came in, I thought they'd go after it," Mathes said. "I didn't know how much they'd offer for Australia, but I thought they'd stand up and make an outstanding effort for Salt Lake."
At Fox, the disappointment is twofold. Not only did the fourth network not get the rights to the Salt Lake City Games, but it missed out on the 2000 Games, which will be held in Sydney, Fox Chairman Rupert Murdoch's birthplace.
"It's a shock to everybody because it came so quickly," said Steven Carlston, vice president and general manager of Fox-owned KSTU-Channel 13. "There was a day when everybody moved very slowly in this industry, but that changed two years ago. The reason NBC did this was a direct result of Rupert Murdoch."
Indeed, NBC's offer is in the pattern set by Murdoch when he made a pre-emptive bid for NFL football in 1993.
"We truly thought that Fox was going to pay whatever it took to get the Olympics," Carlston said.
"Shocked is a good word. Disappointed is a good word," he said. "Are we devastated? No. It's a two-week event. And at those kind of numbers, they won't be revenue-generating events."