The man who spearheaded NBC’s sports and Olympic coverage for two decades is moving on, but to where? Here are some possible destinations
Few within the television industry expect the most powerful name in sports broadcasting to ride off quietly into the sunset.
According to a number of executives TheWrap spoke with on Thursday who are familiar with departing NBC Sports president Dick Ebersol and his situation, that's not going to happen.
Although Ebersol is 63, an age when lesser men and women begin to contemplate retirement, he still commands one of the deepest Rolodexes in the industry and boasts strong relationships with the International Olympic Committee and professional sports chieftans that go back decades.
Will he move to rival CBS or Fox? Migrate to cable and the ESPN empire? Or use his fortune and name recognition to launch his own venture? With over 40 years of experience, Ebersol’s options seem vast.
Read also: Dick Ebersol Out at NBC Sports
In reality, finding the right landing place will be tricky. The leadership of the major broadcasters’ sports divisions are relatively stable, and bagging Ebersol will take a king’s ransom.
"I think it’s unlikely Dick will go to another broadcaster or network," Neal Pilson, a former CBS Sports president who currently consults and teaches at Columbia University. "I don't see him fitting comfortably into other channels. CBS has excellent leadership, Fox has David Hill, and he doesn't really fit the ESPN culture.”
CBS did not respond to TheWrap’s request for comment, and an individual with knowledge of ESPN's thinking said they were not aware of any plans to make a play for Ebersol.
Moreover, a senior Fox executive told TheWrap that the network is pleased with Hill as the head of its sports division.
That said, some in the industry speculate that Rupert Murdoch might be inclined to bring Ebersol on board simply to dig the knife in Comcast’s side.
“If I were Rupert, I’d pay any amount of money to bring him in,” a rival broadcast news executive told TheWrap. “Fox is in a position to grab a person who knows everybody and can get them the best deals in sports. That’s a unique talent and there aren’t many people who offer that.”
But Ebersol doesn’t just offer sports experience. Although he’s best known for producing NBC’s Olympics coverage, Ebersol also has roots in late-night comedy. After all, along with Lorne Michaels, Ebersol helped conceive and create “Saturday Night Live.”
“My guess is Dick may very well create some new TV enterprise that could include sports, or it could bring him back to his entertainment experience. In fact, that’s more likely than him continuing in sports,” Pilson told TheWrap.
Instead of trying to set off a bidding war among the major networks, the conventional wisdom seems to be that Ebersol will branch out into new territory. With his name attached, raising money for something as substantial as a cable network would seem to be an option.
“Really only Dick and Roone Arledge could pull off a stunt like that. With a phone call, he could create his own sports network,” the broadcast news executive told TheWrap.
However, one senior Comcast executive poured cold water on the idea that Ebersol would be able to find a broadcasting partner for his new network.
“Sports network? Who would carry that?” the executive told TheWrap.
Left unsaid, of course, is that Comcast is unlikely to be among the bidders for an Ebersol- led network. If he wants to do that, he won’t be calling up the Roberts clan.