Olympics Channel Not Getting Cheerleaders Team handball fans, archery fans, equestrian fans rejoice! The United States Olympic Committee wants to start its own television network. Not everyone is happy about it, though. Sportswriter Stefan Fatsis joins Robert Siegel to talk about why the International Olympic Committee and NBC aren't celebrating the idea.

Olympics Channel Not Getting Cheerleaders

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

Baseball, basketball, football, hockey, golf, tennis, they all have one. So it should have come as no surprise when the U.S. Olympic Committee announced that it, too, plans to start its own television network. Sportswriter Stefan Fatsis joins us most Fridays to talk about sports and the business of sports. Hiya, Stefan.


SIEGEL: So is this really going to be a 24-hour Olympic sports network with all the luge and all the rhythmic gymnastics and synchronized swimming that we could ever want to watch?

FATSIS: That's the idea. I mean, it is a plan, and the plan is to start after the Winter Olympics in 2010. The USOC is partnering with Comcast, the nation's biggest cable operator. So right off the bat, the U.S. Olympic network would have distribution, and in terms of programming, well, there are 40 or so Olympic sports in which the U.S. fields teams. There are pockets of fans for each of these sports. A dedicated network would give them more exposure than they have now for athletes, but also for the sponsors of these individual sports that don't get much bang for the buck between Olympics.

SIEGEL: You mean not just at the Olympiad itself, but games that take place in between even-numbered years, or would they show highlights of old Olympiads? I'm not sure what would be on this channel.

FATSIS: Well, you know, think about it. These sports all have competitions between the Olympics, not just Olympic qualifiers. Teams have to get ready for the Olympics, they have to qualify for the Olympics. They play friendly matches, competitions all around the world. So yes, there is programming for a lot of these sports.

SIEGEL: And what kind of reception did this announcement get from the International Olympic Committee or, better yet, from something bigger, NBC, which has made covering the Olympics part of its brand over the years.

FATSIS: Well, and this is the issue here. The IOC actually has come out against this. An IOC board member told Richard Sandomir of The New York Times that the IOC had serious issues with the network, and it instructed the USOC not to go forward.

The main issue is, as you just pointed out, NBC. The network has paid billions of dollars in recent years for the rights to show the Olympics in the United States. It recently also launched its own specialized network called Universal Sports, that covers much of the same turf that the USOC's planned network would. NBC rightfully feels that its new effort enhances its Olympics brand, and the IOC has a clear interest in protecting NBC, which is its cash cow.

SIEGEL: So what we have here is an Olympian business dispute.

FATSIS: Yeah, and given the blowback, it does seem that the USOC may have jumped the gun. It must've known that the IOC and NBC were not pleased the USOC still apparently hasn't nailed down all of the programming it would carry, and most important, historically it has clashed with the European-dominated IOC.

So while you might think that the IOC would encourage as much exposure for these fringe sports as possible in the United States, you've got these entrenched and interlocking business interests. The bottom line here is that the USOC has to tread very carefully. It's pushing Chicago to be selected as the host of the 2016 summer games, and it can't do anything to jeopardize that.

SIEGEL: Isn't there a risk here, though, that big Olympic events like skiing, for example, is going to be sold to the networks, as always, and won't be available to this channel, but not to belittle team handball, team handball and equestrian will? That is, the sports with lesser interest might turn up on this channel.

FATSIS: You know, that's partly the idea. I mean, if you sandwich some live programming with pre-packaged commentary, feature stories and if they can get the rights to certain historical events, then I think you've got enough programming to justify a network. You're going to attract a niche audience no matter what you do.

SIEGEL: It'll be like the Major League Baseball Channel, which when they don't have a game, or they're not talking about games underway, they show you the 1962 World Series.

FATSIS: You know, the IOC controls a lot of the historical rights to the coverage. There are certain Olympics that fall out of their control, some Olympics that were on ABC decades ago, but if you can get those rights, and if a deal is worked out here, it's a rich vein of programming.

SIEGEL: Sportswriter Stefan Fatsis, who talks with us on Fridays. Stefan, have a great vacation.

FATSIS: Thank you, Robert.

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