A Comcast-controlled NBC Universal will have an array of sports assets, bringing speculation that it will zealously challenge ESPN. ESPN President George Bodenheimer said Tuesday: We're ready.
"From the respect that we welcome competition, I'm not concerned," the executive said. "I don't know any specifics about what they're planning or not."
There may be a perception that ESPN has few viable competitors, but Bodenheimer said that's apocryphal. The company has been battling sports and other challengers for consumer attention on multiple platforms for some time. "You better believe we have competition in each one of those mediums that is ferocious," he said at Advertising Age's Media Evolved conference.
Speaking broadly, he said he does expect Comcast to link NBC Sports with Versus and regional sports networks, but appeared to shrug his shoulders. "I assume they'll look to put them together somehow," he said, voicing a view held by many media insiders.
As Comcast may have a windfall to acquire sports properties, Bodenheimer reiterated that ESPN would be eager to obtain rights to the Olympics. But "it needs to be done in a manner that makes financial sense." NBC has had the Olympics for years.
ESPN will continue to carry the World Cup and will soon secure deals for the 2018 and 2022 events. "We will compete vigorously for those rights as well," he said. The company has the event in 2014.
ESPN is also "potentially poised" to expand its local sports sites, focusing on cities such as Chicago and Dallas, as well as other markets, Bodenheimer said. In his appearance, Bodenheimer offered ample doses of the humor he often displays at industry events. An NFL or NBA lockout next year would be an ESPN problem. What's the plan to fill time for lost programming? "It involves putting two or three people on the set and having them talk about sports," he said wryly. "That's the gist of our business plan."
How will the fledgling ESPN 3D network make money? He offered an anecdote that is "99% true." And it demonstrates some of the autonomy ESPN has within its parent Walt Disney.
After ESPN announced it was launching the 3D network, Disney CEO Bob Iger called and essentially said: "I understand you're launching a 3D network. Would you mind sending us the plan?" "Rest assured Bob, whenever we have a plan, we'll be the first one to send it to you," Bodenheimer replied.