USOC races to launch TV network for Beijing Games

The U.S. Olympic Committee’s (USOC) aggressive plan to start its own cable network continues moving ahead, even though no one is sure the plan will be operative before the beginning of the Beijing Olympics.

The rights to televise events from more than half the individual sports have already been secured by the USOC, the Associated Press reported, but the strategy of bringing them to air has been slow to develop. No one in the organization’s offices is talking.

The idea was born two years ago and given a working title, the U.S. Olympic Sports Network. The plan was to air live events and archival footage along with a few shows that mix sports and lifestyle topics.

The goal of the network was to increase exposure for Olympic sports, many of which are quickly forgotten once the Olympics end. There was also a long-term hope of making the Olympics a more valuable commodity when negotiations for future network contracts come up.

NBC owns the American TV rights through 2012 (at the cost of $2 billion total for 2010 and 2012), and the timetable for bidding for 2014 and beyond has not yet been announced.

The USOC would not say whether its network would be on the air prior to the Beijing Olympics, which are less than three months away. “The honest answer is, a lot is going on and a lot of work is being done, but we’re not in any place to give adjectives,” Chairman Peter Ueberroth said. “We can’t say how it looks, how it doesn’t look, whether it’s close or not close; we’re just working hard.”

The USOC is looking at three options: starting its own network, acquiring another or leasing blocks of time on an existing network for so-called “USOC days.” Obtaining clearance on cable and satellite systems across the country is no guarantee, while buying an existing network would be very expensive and still no guarantee of carriage.

Leasing time might be the most viable option for the USOC, though that wouldn’t necessarily serve the purpose of creating an easily identifiable, one-stop outlet for Olympic programming.