He butted heads with the company’s new management after years of convincing NBC higher-ups for years why it was worth taking huge financial losses in becoming immersed in televising the Olympics.
He’s not getting any younger. And maybe it’s just time.
The resignation today by NBC Sports Group Chairman Dick Ebersol, an annual selection to The Sporting News’ list of the Top 100 most powerful people in sports, ends a run after 22 years as the network’s top sports executive.
In December 2003, Ebersol agreed to a nine-year contract to continue running NBC Sports and the Olympics through 2012. The New York Times reported that he intends to stay at NBC through the end of this June, leaving before NBC covers the ’12 Summer Games in London.
NBC Sports exec Mark Lazarus has been promoted to take his place.
Incoming NBCUniversal chief executive Steve Burke has been battling with Ebersol over how the network should move forward in Olympic bidding negotations. He’s also made changes in NBC Sports to push a greater involvement with its cable partners, especially those owned by Comcast Corp., which recently took over NBC.
“Dick Ebersol is an incredible talent whose contributions to the company over the last four decades in sports, news and entertainment are unsurpassed,” Burke said in a statement. “Dick has masterfully produced everything from the Olympics and Sunday Night Football, to the Triple Crown, NHL games and major golf and tennis events. In the entertainment world, he helped create Saturday Night Live, one of the most significant programs in television. We will miss his intellect, experience, and passion for the television business.”
Ebersol, who turns 63 this summer, has previous heart surgery and survived a plane crash in 2004 that took the life of his younger son, Teddy, said in a statement: “What I have enjoyed most is working so closely with so many truly outstanding and incredibly talented people over decades of producing some of the greatest events in the world. Those relationships are what I cherish most. I have always said this business is about relationships and I have been fortunate enough to have more deep and meaningful friendships than any man could imagine.
“It has been a sincere privilege to tell so many remarkable stories that have inspired me throughout my entire career. Some of my favorite memories come from reading letters and talking to viewers who also have been moved by such powerful stories.
“I simply want to say thank you to all of those people who have touched me so deeply throughout my career.”
On today’s SiriusXM’s Chris “Mad Dog” Russo show, Bob Costas said Ebersol’s call to him this morning to explain what was going on was “the first that I had heard of it. But he sounded very much at peace with his decision and the exact reasons are his to explain.”
At age 20, Ebersol joined Roone Arledge at ABC as an Olympic researcher, learning about the importance of the event as a network asset while working at the 1972 Munich Games — and that included making it a prime-time, tape-delayed production, no matter what time zone it came from.
When he ascented to NBC Sports chief in 1989, Ebersol was executive producer for the ’92 Barcelona Olympics. In 1993, he got the network to commit billions of dollars for the rights to the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta. Two years later, he got the rights to the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney and the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City — packaging the two together for the first time. That led to NBC getting the rights to the 2004, 2008 and 2012 Summer Games, as well as the 2006, ’08 and ’10 Winter Games.
In 1992, Ebersol was awarded the Olympic Order, an honor periodically bestowed by the International Olympic Committee to recognize remarkable contributions to the Olympic Movement.
Ebersol said he would not attend the IOC meetings next month that involve the U.S. TV bidding rights for the 2014 Winter Games in Russia or the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro. ABC/ESPN and Fox are expected to be among the heavy bidders.
His fingerprint on most recent NBC ventures was orchestrating the network getting “Sunday Night Football” and hiring John Madden and Al Michaels to broadcast it. He also worked a revenue-sharing deal with the NHL.
On the negative side: He partnered with Vince McMahon to create the XFL in 2000. At least technical innovations came of it, including the overhead camera.
Ebersol helped to create “Saturday Night Live” with Lorne Michaels for NBC as well in the 1970s. During his run there, he met future wife, actress Susan Saint James.