NBC's Wright Says NFL, Olympics Smart Deals

NBC Chairman-CEO Bob Wright said the network took the financially prudent course eight years ago by refusing to pay huge rights fees to carry the NFL. Now, after failed attempts with the XFL and Arena Football, he said the NFL is back on NBC--on considerably more favorable terms for the network.

"It took eight years to get the pricing right," he said yesterday at an Advertising Week event in New York. Wright said NBC was given an offer sheet in the late 1990s to retain its Sunday afternoon NFL package for $550 million. At the time, NBC Sports head Dick Ebersol blasted the prospective deal--taken by CBS--saying a network could never make money at that level. "We thought we'd lose too much money," Wright said. But last year, NBC scored the NFL's new Sunday-night broadcast package for $50 million more--$600 million a year--than it walked away from in 1998.

Despite losing a ratings battle to ABC's "Desperate Housewives" on Sunday, Wright indicated that the deal is a winner for the network. Not only are the terms better financially, but NBC has a tentpole to help rebuild its recent lackluster prime-time performance, he said. Plus, it has the benefit of flexible scheduling for the first time. Now, the network has a say in which games it carries late in the season in order to avoid unappealing match-ups.

On another sports matter, Wright said he still believes the network's commitment to carry the Olympics through 2012 is a smart one, despite the Winter Games losing $70 million this year. His reasoning is echoed by many top media executives: Premiere content cuts through clutter.

"In a world that gets more options out there," he said, "the things that are premium break out."

Since the 2008 Beijing Summer Games will take place in August, the network will likely benefit from not having to compete with "American Idol" and other first-run programming on other networks.

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