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ESPN Looks to Intercept Olympic Torch


Sports network to make a blitz for 2014, 2016 Games.

Though the ESPN (DIS) dropped the ball in past bidding wars, it plans to rebound and shoot for the rights to air most of the 2014 and 2016 Olympics live, regardless of time zones. NBC (GE), the frontrunner in 11 past Olympic bids, is handicapped by programming it can't bench to make room for the Olympics' television roster.

ESPN, however, is looking to level the playing field.

Executive Vice President for Content, John Skipper, gives the play-by-play: "We serve sports fans. It's hard in our culture to fathom tape-delaying in the same way they have. I'm not suggesting it wasn't the smart thing for them to do, but it's not our culture. We did Euro 2008 in the afternoon. We've done the World Cup in the middle of the morning."

And Skipper claims their viewers never cried foul over that type of coverage.

Although ESPN fumbled the bid for the Beijing Games, Skipper admits to NBC delivering a knockout with the coverage. "It's a beautiful property and NBC's done great with it," he said. "On a scale of 1 to 10, I'd have to say it's been a 10.5."

The Beijing Games have been a home run in terms of audience, drawing an average of 29.6 million viewers over 11 nights. At 200 million total viewers, it's also on track to become the most-viewed television event ever in America.

When faced with NBC's highlight reel, Skipper admits to having to call an audible, huddle and change up their next play. The VP indicated that now, more than ever, they'll have to be aggressive. B-E aggressive.

The International Olympic Committee, who referees the bids, has yet to draft a date for pitching the TV rights to 2014 Winter Games in Russia or the 2016 Summer Games. The venue choice in 2016 is on the sideline for the time being, but the lineup is between Chicago, Tokyo, Madrid and Rio de Janeiro.

No matter who comes in first, 4 countries will be vying for the home field advantage.

ESPN will most certainly go head-to-head against NBC in the next bidding war and is likely to tag-team with ABC for a joint bid assist.

Still viewed as the underdog, ESPN/ABC might consider moving the goalposts.
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