U.S. Olympic TV Network Draws Wrath Of IOC

July 9, 2009: News that the U.S. Olympic Committee and Comcast have entered into an agreement to form the U.S. Olympic Network had immediate response from the International Olympic Committee, and not a response that would earn a gold medal for either the potential network or Chicago's bid to host the 2016 Games. The proposed USON would be the first cable TV network "devoted solely to the excitement, competition and values connected with the Olympic Movement," according to the USOC. Expected to launch in 2010, the network would broadcast year-round and use multiple platforms, including TV, VOD and online. USON would provide a "window into the quests of American athletes to reach the pinnacle of their sports."

However, reaction to the news from the IOC was not favorable. "They just do what they think they want to do, and the Olympic movement be damned," Richard Carrion, the IOC Finance Commission chairman in charge of negotiating U.S. broadcast rights beyond 2012, was quoted in the Chicago Tribune and elsewhere. "I think it's just unilateral and, frankly, somewhat arrogant."

The USOC said that Chicago 2016, which is heading the quest to bring the Summer Games to the U.S., was not involved with the USON negotiations or decision to release the news about the network. But if this move is seen as a power play against the IOC, it could hinder Chicago's bid by moving votes away from the city and toward other the other contenders, Madrid, Tokyo and Rio. The IOC and USOC have been involved in lengthy and somewhat heated discussions regarding revenue and rights. Regarding the network itself, there apparently is a major unresolved issue over whether USON can use the Olympic symbol or footage from past Olympics. That is significant in that the USOC said that the proposed network would include "classic Olympic footage through its exclusive U.S. access to thousands of hours of programming."

At the very least, the USON, when it comes to fruition, would provide new opportunities for marketers and partners of both the USOC and the IOC. "The USON's unparalleled year-round exposure of the Olympic brand — already one of the world's most recognized and respected —will generate compelling opportunities for Olympic sponsors to expand their association with the Olympic Games and the Olympic Movement," Stephanie Streeter, acting CEO of the USOC, said in a statement. "At the same time, we believe it will enhance interest in and viewership of Olympic-related coverage on broadcast networks."

But before that happens, logistics, finances and major hurdles still need to be resolved. “We’ve given the rights to NBC to be the Olympic network,” Carrion told The New York Times, “and I don’t think something else called the Olympic network will fly.” Back to Home Page