Almost exactly a year ago, the International Olympic Committee made a multibillion-dollar deal with NBC Universal, granting the network broadcast rights to all Olympic Games through 2032. So would a contract of that magnitude swing the 2024 Olympics back to the U.S. — to Boston?
Broadcasting the Olympics is no small feat. Crews the size of small armies work around the clock to film events that happen in seconds. They also tell memorable personal stories of teams and athletes from around the globe.
NBC Universal pays dearly to do it. The IOC's extended contract with NBC is worth $7.75 billion.
“The amount of money that is paid for the rights to these Olympics is getting to the point of being practically inconceivably high,” said Robert Thompson, a professor of television and pop culture at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School. He says given that the deal gives NBC rights to six more Olympic Games, and to all media including web and mobile, the network will get its money’s worth.
"It isn’t just the income from advertising that’s the benefit," he said. "You get lots of viewers and then you load the Olympics with promotions for all your other programming. In the era of instantaneous information, being able to check out scores and social media, I’m constantly surprised how high the Olympic ratings actually stay."
Given the work they’ll do, does NBC have a say in whether to bring the Summer Games to Boston in 2024?
"I am not aware that NBC has any input in that," Thompson said. "But I can’t imagine — given the amount of money that a network puts on the table to get these things — that they simply sit back and wait for the decision to be made and then react to it. One has to think that they are lobbying in one way or another."
But there’s no way to prove that, at least not right now. The IOC insists the host city is elected only by its 100-plus members, and NBC declined to comment for this story. But anyone who watches the Olympics on TV knows it’s preferable to film in certain time zones. Crews don’t have to travel so far and viewers see the events more immediately.
"Of course, we have coming up the Olympics in Brazil, which is a favorable time zone for the United States," said Neal Pilson, the former president of CBS Sports. "So the U.S. isn’t the only location where you can expect increased television audiences."
Pilson negotiated deals to broadcast the Albertville, France, winter games in 1992; the Lillehammer, Norway, winter games in 1994; and the Nagano, Japan winter games in 1998. Pilson says speculation about NBC’s input is exaggerated, and he echoes the IOC: Networks don’t have any say. But he points out that many of the biggest Olympics sponsors are U.S.-based companies: Coca-Cola, Visa, McDonald’s. Pilson wonders if the IOC feels pressure to bring the Games back to the U.S.
"Every IOC member is well aware that a substantial proportion of the Olympic funding does come from U.S. companies,” he said.
There are billions at stake, and those billions keep the Olympic movement — and NBC cameras — rolling.