Dick Ebersol has resigned as NBC Sports Group chairman, an industry giant who helped launch “Saturday Night Live” and built the network into the home of the Olympics over the past two decades.
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“I had a long run and loved every bit of it,” Ebersol said in a phone interview with The Associated Press on Thursday.
Ebersol said he couldn’t agree to terms on a new contract with Comcast, which merged with NBC earlier this year. The network said NBC Sports Cable Group president Mark Lazarus would take over for Ebersol.
Ebersol ran NBC Sports since 1989, and his departure comes just three weeks before the International Olympic Committee opens bids on the next set of lucrative Olympic broadcast rights in the United States.
“It comes as a complete surprise,” said Richard Carrion, the IOC executive board member who negotiates U.S. rights. He said Comcast CEO Brian Roberts “assured me they are 100 percent committed to the Olympics and the rights process.”
IOC President Jacques Rogge said he was told that Ebersol’s resignation had “absolutely nothing to do” with the upcoming bidding on rights for the 2014 and 2016 Olympics. Rogge said the news came as a “shock.”
Ebersol said he has no reason to believe network officials “do not want to continue the association.”
The resignation was first reported by The New York Times.
In addition to his many network triumphs, Ebersol endured personal tragedy, surviving a plane crash that killed his teenage son in 2004.
The Ebersols were on their way from the airport near the ski community of Telluride, Colo., to South Bend, Ind., where older son Charlie attended Notre Dame. The plane skidded across the runway, ripped apart and burst into flames, killing his 14-year-old son Teddy, the pilot and a flight attendant. Ebersol and Charlie were seriously injured. His wife, actress Susan Saint James, was not on the plane.
The 63-year-old Ebersol’s dedication to the Olympics dates to 1967, when he temporarily dropped out of Yale to work at ABC as an Olympic researcher.
With the NBC/Comcast merger, Ebersol seemingly gained newfound power and resources with the addition of the cable company’s sports channels and money. The top spots in the new NBC Sports Group were filled with his colleagues from NBC.
The IOC is holding its auction next month for the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, and 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Networks can also bid on a four-games package including the 2018 and 2020 Olympics, whose host cities have not yet been chosen. The IOC is hoping to surpass the previous $2.2 billion deal.
NBC has broadcast every Summer Olympics since 1988 and every Winter Games since 2002.
“After Jacques Rogge, in many ways, he’s been the most influential person on the Olympic movement in terms of both revenue growth and the presentation of their product to the globe,” said former USOC chairman Peter Ueberroth. “His skills have been copied by other major countries and he’s created the style of modern Olympic Games since 1990.”
In 1975, as NBC’s director of weekend late night programming, Ebersol and Lorne Michaels conceived and developed “Saturday Night Live.” Ebersol became NBC’s vice president of late night programming as a 28-year-old, the network’s first VP under the age of 30. After a brief departure, he returned to “SNL” in 1981 as executive producer and remained until 1985.
He focused on his production company before returning to NBC in 1989.
In December 2003, Ebersol agreed to a nine-year contract through 2012.
Other than the Olympics, NBC’s presence in other sports had dwindled in recent years. It hasn’t televised baseball since 2000 or the NBA since 2002.
After losing its rights to the NFL’s AFC package in 1998, NBC picked up the league’s Sunday night deal starting in 2006 and rejoined the Super Bowl rotation. Under Ebersol, the network transformed “Sunday Night Football” into destination viewing.