IOC awards European broadcast rights to SPORTFIVE

Updated: February 18, 2009, 2:01 PM ET
Associated Press

LONDON -- The IOC awarded the European broadcast rights for the 2014 and 2016 Olympics to a leading sports marketing agency Wednesday in a deal worth $316 million, a big revenue boost at a time of economic crisis.

Sportfive was granted rights for all media platforms -- including free and subscription television, Internet and mobile phones -- across 40 countries in Europe for the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, and 2016 Summer Olympics, whose host city will be selected in October.

The agreement does not include broadcast rights in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Turkey and Britain. The International Olympic Committee already has deals with broadcasters in Italy and Turkey, and will begin direct negotiations in the other four countries "in due course."

Financial terms of the contract with Sportfive were not announced, but a senior official with direct knowledge of the negotiations told The Associated Press the deal is valued at $316 million. The official spoke on condition of anonymity in line with policy of not going public on contract figures.

Added to the earlier deals in Italy and Turkey, the IOC has reached a total of $540 million in European rights fees. With deals in Europe's four big markets still to come, the IOC is hopeful of surpassing $1 billion. That would be a 30 percent increase on the $850 million in its current deal with the European Broadcasting Union for the 2010 and 2012 Olympics.

"We are very pleased at the significant increase in financial terms," said IOC vice president Thomas Bach, who led the negotiations. "In this economic environment, it is evidence of the power of the games."

The partnership with Sportfive replaces the IOC's long-lasting rights deal with the EBU, an umbrella body of public broadcasters that had held Olympic rights for more than 50 years.

The IOC rejected the EBU's bid last year for the 2014-2016 rights, deciding to seek a better deal elsewhere.

The EBU paid $443.4 million to show last year's Beijing Olympics and $135 million for the 2006 Winter Games in Turin, Italy. The EBU also bought rights for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics and 2012 Summer Games in London for $746 million in 2004.

"The IOC selected Sportfive on its capacity to market the Olympic broadcast rights and its passion and commitment for the Olympic Games and the Olympic values," the IOC said in a statement.

Sportfive was chosen ahead of Infront Sports and Media, the Switzerland-based sports marketing agency.

The IOC said Sportfive will now seek broadcast partners with the obligation of ensuring "the broadest possible audience."

Under the deal, broadcasters in each country must air at least 200 hours of free-to-air television coverage for the Summer Olympics and 100 hours for the Winter Games.

"This agreement marks an exciting new era in the broadcasting of the Olympic Games," IOC president Jacques Rogge said. "The IOC is committed to ensuring that as many people as possible have access to the best possible Olympic broadcast experience."

The IOC has already reached agreements with SKY Italia in Italy and FOX Turkey in Turkey for the 2014 and 2016 period. Both networks are part of Rupert Murdoch's media group.

The U.S. TV rights for 2014 and '16 have not yet been awarded. The U.S. rights provide the biggest share of the IOC's revenues.

Because of the global economic downturn, the IOC has said it is prepared to postpone the U.S. negotiations until after the 2016 host city is chosen in Copenhagen on Oct. 2. The candidates are Chicago, Madrid, Tokyo and Rio de Janeiro.

In the previous U.S. negotiations in 2003, NBC beat Fox and ESPN/ABC with a $2.2 billion bid for the 2010 and 2012 Olympics. NBC, Fox and ABC-ESPN are all expected to bid again, while CBS Corp. and Time Warner Inc. have discussed joining forces.

Sportfive, controlled by the French media giant Lagardere, is billed as the world's No. 1 football agency. It handles sports rights marketing, stadium advertising, shirt sponsorships, stadium development and hospitality programs.

Sportfive's corporate headquarters are in Zurich. It has two others main offices in Hamburg and Paris.

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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