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Comcast may get its Olympics after all

October 1, 2009 |  3:19 pm

It sure is an expensive way to get into the Olympics.

Hard to believe, but it was just a little over two months ago that Comcast Corp. and NBC Universal were at odds over an Olympic-themed cable network that Comcast wanted to launch in a partnership with the U.S. Olympic Committee.

As we reported, NBC and the International Olympics Committee said no way and the channel was dead in the water before it could even reach the ground much less get off the ground.

EBERSOL Now Comcast's talks to take a controlling stake in NBC Universal and form a new content company could mean that the cable giant could end up with the Olympics after all. 

That could be a big boost to Versus, the little-watched sports channel that Comcast wants to be a competitor to ESPN. Currently, Versus' current big-ticket items are the Tour de France and the National Hockey League. NBC has rights to the Olympics through 2012 and will likely be an aggressive bidder for future games including 2016, which could end up being held in Chicago.

If Versus can get higher-profile sporting events it can boost what it charges cable and satellite operators to carry the network. Currently, Versus charges a little over 20 cents per-subscriber. ESPN, which has an arsenal that includes the NFL, Major League Baseball, basketball and lots of college football, charges close to $4 per subscriber.Versus is also expected to try to land post-season baseball the next time those deals open up. Currently, Turner, ESPN and Fox have all the post-season games.

ESPN and News Corp.'s Fox are also expected to make a run at the games. While News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch said at an investor conference that his company would not go after the Olympics, most in the sports world think he was being coy.

One thing is for certain: If Comcast does end up controlling NBC Universal and starts to clean house, it will want to keep the network's sports chief Dick Ebersol around. Ebersol has long ties to the IOC and, as he showed Comcast this past summer when he made their cable channel plans disappear, packs a lot of heat.

-- Joe Flint

Photo: NBC Sports' Dick Ebersol. Credit: Jim Ruymen/Reuters