USOC postpones Olympic Network

The U.S. Olympic Committee(USOC) has backed down from its announced plan to start its own Olympic TV network. “There is no question that we underestimated the intensity of the reaction that we got from multiple constituents,” USOC Chairman Larry Probst said after meeting with Jacques Rogge, president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The IOC, along with NBC, the Olympic rights holder through 2012, had opposed such a network.

The USOC’s attempt to create the network also was hurting Chicago’s chances to be picked as the site of the Olympic Games in 2016; that vote is scheduled for Oct. 2, only seven weeks away. Probst decided to postpone plans for the network, rather than create a controversy that could hurt Chicago’s chances of selection. Chicago is in a race against Madrid, Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo.

“The USOC wants to do everything it can to help support the Chicago bid,” Probst said. “We want to see Chicago win the bid. Anything we can do to help to support them, we’re going to do that.”

The IOC had criticized the USOC for announcing the launch of the TV network July 8. The international Olympic group said a new network raised complex legal questions and could jeopardize relations with current rights holder NBC, who saw the new network as competition. The USOC tried to cut a deal with NBC and its cable partner, Universal Sports, over the new network, but negotiations broke down. Later, the USOC made a deal with Comcast.

NBC will pay $2.2 billion to televise the Vancouver and London Olympics. The network also plans to be among the U.S. networks bidding for rights to the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi in addition to the 2016 Summer Games.

The USOC saw the new network as a way to keep Olympic sports in front of TV viewers beyond the games. It was intended to benefit smaller sports that struggle to find airtime outside of the Olympics. However, the USOC met substantial opposition from day one. It had no start-up date, no programming and only Comcast as a cable partner. There was little to lose, except embarrassment, in canceling the network.