CAA gets key role with IOC

CAA Sports scored its biggest media rights deal to date when the International Olympic Committee hired it to be a strategic media adviser.

By TRIPP MICKLE & JOHN OURAND
Sports Business Journal
Staff writers

Published September 14, 2009

CAA Sports scored its biggest media rights deal to date when the International Olympic Committee hired it to be a strategic media adviser.

The surprising move gives CAA Sports a critical role in the bidding process for Olympic media rights in the United States. The agency’s top media executives, Chris Bevilacqua and Alan Gold, essentially will be the IOC’s point men in the United States, meeting with U.S. broadcasters as they try to secure lucrative bids for the 2014 and 2016 Olympics.

The job is the first major media assignment for CAA Sports since Bevilacqua and Gold joined the agency a year ago. Bevilacqua, who had been a partner at SCP Worldwide, and Gold, former managing director of the U.S. Open Series, have worked to build an investment bank for sports media opportunities, and the IOC relationship gives them the stamp of approval from one of the world’s largest sports properties.

The IOC’s decision to hire CAA injects an element of the unknown into the bid process for the 2014 and 2016 Olympics. The IOC previously had worked with longtime TV executive Neal Pilson for the rights to the 2010 and 2012 Olympics. Pilson, the former president of CBS Sports, is well-known in U.S. media circles and familiar with top executives like Fox Sports Chairman David Hill and NBC Sports and Olympics Chairman Dick Ebersol.

When contacted last week, Pilson said he had not officially heard from the IOC about who was awarded the bid.

Based in New York, Bevilacqua and Gold are not as well-known. Neither is Timo Lumme, IOC director of television and marketing services, who joined the IOC in 2004 after the organization negotiated its existing rights agreement with NBC for the 2010 and 2012 Olympics.

But Bevilacqua and Lumme have known each other for more than a decade, having worked together at Nike in the late 1990s. Bevilacqua was the company’s global negotiations director and Lumme was its European sports marketing director.

Sources said the IOC favored CAA because the agency is better positioned to help explore broader media opportunities for Olympic content in the United States. The IOC has designs on an Olympic cable channel — one that would take the place of the U.S. Olympic Committee’s planned effort — and it believes Bevilacqua is well-suited to help. Bevilacqua helped launch CSTV and sell it to CBS in 2005 for $325 million. So far, NBC, ESPN and Fox have all said they plan to bid; and CBS and Turner Sports have looked into whether they can partner on a joint bid.

One of Pilson’s strategies during the last negotiation was to take his pitch to the corporate parents, like General Electric, Disney and News Corp., rather than the TV networks, like NBC, ESPN and Fox. The strategy was rewarded with a knockout bid from NBC, which paid $2.1 billion for rights to the 2010 and 2012 Olympics, and the IOC will look to increase that rights fee with CAA’s assistance.

Because of the recession, the IOC delayed the rights tender process for the 2014 and 2016 Olympics until after the organization selects a host city for the 2016 Games in Copenhagen on Oct. 2. Tokyo, Madrid, Rio de Janeiro and Chicago are all bidding for the rights. Whichever one is selected is sure to have a major impact on the value the IOC receives for rights.

Should Chicago win, networks would be willing to pay a larger fee, betting a domestic Games would deliver huge ratings. Rio also could generate a considerable fee because its time zone would allow most events to be aired live in prime time in the U.S. Tokyo and Madrid, however, would present more challenges for U.S. broadcasters, who would have trouble showing live action during prime time.

After a city is selected, the IOC and CAA Sports will have to decide if they want to begin the tender process before or after the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. If they open the bidding before the Games, they risk doing it at a time when media companies are still concerned about the economy and sluggish advertising sales. If they wait until afterward, they will be making a bet that the Vancouver Games will wind up being successful for NBC.

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