Dick Ebersol Out at NBC Sports

Longtime executive could not reach agreement on contract with Comcast

Dick Ebersol, the legendary NBC Sports executive, is resigning, the network announced on Thursday. 

In a statement, Steve Burke, CEO, NBCUniversal and Executive Vice President, Comcast Corporation praised Ebersol's decades of leadership at the network.

“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 statment. "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 decided to leave his home of more than twenty years, after contract negotiations broke down with the network's new parent company Comcast, a senior network executive told TheWrap.

Ebersol has headed NBC's sports division since 1989.

Mark Lazarus, recently tapped by Ebersol to head up the NBC Sports Cable Group, will replace him, NBC announced.

In announcing resignation, Ebersol thanked the viewers and co-workers. 

"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," Ebersol said.

Ebersol's departure leaves NBC without one of the giants of broadcast sports coverage, not to mention a widely respected executive with a deep rolodex of contacts and relationships. 

"Dick is one of the very important people in sports television and leaves quite a legacy at NBC," said Neal Pilson, a former CBS Sports president who currently consults and teaches at Columbia University. "Dick had a unique relationship with the International Olympic Committee, and NBC will lose that link."

According to an initial New York Times report, tensions emerged between NBC Universal and Ebersol over the network's upcoming bid to carry the 2014 Winter Games in Russia and 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. However, a senior network executive said that rights to the Olympics did not play a part in Ebersol's exit. 

"Dick is an incredibly talented person. This is simple – the deal didn’t work out," the executive told TheWrap.

After its takeover of NBCU was finalized, Comcast made Ebersol chief of the NBC Sports Group, which includes NBC Sports, Versus and the Golf Channel.

Last month, NBC and Comcast signed a new 10-year, $200 million deal with the National Hockey League.

Ebersol and NBC outbid ESPN, TBS and others for the rights to broadcast games on NBC and Versus. It was NBCU's first sports rights deal since Comcast took over the company.

A Yale dropout who broke into the television business under the guidance of another sports-programming legend, ABC's Roone Arledge, Ebersol started work at NBC in 1974, heading the network's late-night programming. At NBC, Ebersol and Lorne Michaels launched "Saturday Night Live" in 1975

In 1989, he was made head of the sports division, a position that grew into the title of president, NBC Universal Sports and Olympics.

In fact, Ebersol oversaw the execution of the conglomerate's multi-billion-dollar Olympics packages for more than a decade.

But according to the New York Post, Ebersol's approach to broadcasting the Olympics — packaging coverage for primetime, rather than airing events live — clashed with some at Comcast.

NBC lost $223 million on the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. At the time, Jeff Immelt, CEO of then-NBC parent General Electric, blamed the economy. "It's just a tough time for an event like that," he said.

“It’s gotten so bad that NBC is saving money on the Olympic Torch by just setting fire to Conan O’Brien,” Stephen Colbert joked at the time. “Or that could be his hair, it’s hard to tell.”

Ebersol told the Times he plans to stay at the company through June, but will not attend the network's Olympics negotiations.