'Till is full' of Olympics, but NBC to keep chasing major events

THE BALTIMORE SUN

NBC won't be needing any Girl Scout cookie sales to raise cash soon, but one has to wonder when the ink will begin to run red at Rockefeller Center.

With the announcement that it has captured the Summer Olympics of 2004 and 2008, and the Winter Olympics of 2006, sites undetermined, the network has committed nearly $4 billion to the IOC and Major League Baseball in the past four months alone, with bidding for the NBA and NFL, two of the bigger American properties, on the horizon.

With NBA commissioner David Stern sitting at the Manhattan news conference yesterday, NBC Sports President Dick Ebersol said the network, with the support of its corporate parent, General Electric, expects to continue to bid and win in the high-stakes game of sports television.

"The till is full," said Ebersol. "We are the beneficiaries of a parent company, General Electric, that is the most successful corporation in America. You couldn't ask for a more supportive corporation to work for."

Ebersol said he and network officials got working on grabbing the new Olympics package not long after the August news conference to announce the 2000 and 2002 Games. Between dinners and phone calls over the next few months, stretching over three continents, the deal was done.

He said he has already called many of his top announcers, including Bob Costas and Greg Gumbel, and expects to hear from more than a few announcers who want to get in on the Olympics gravy train.

Oddly enough, the chance to get on that train drove Ebersol to drop out of college in 1968 at the age of 19 to be a researcher for ABC's coverage in Mexico City. Yesterday's deal brings Ebersol's career full circle.

"To know that one of the last things that I'll ever do in this business is the Olympics gives me a nice sense of closure," said Ebersol.

Turner to have Shaq return

One way or another, a Turner network, be it TBS tonight or TNT on Friday, will have the return to the Orlando Magic lineup of center/marketing tool Shaquille O'Neal.

The Magic travels to Chicago tonight at 8, and analyst Chuck Daly says the game is just as important for the Bulls as it is for Orlando.

"Since Michael Jordan came back, the Bulls have lost the last five times they've played Orlando, so that's an intriguing subplot, along with Shaq's return," said Daly.

If O'Neal's thumb injury requires an extra day's rest, his return will take place at home Friday against Utah at 8 p.m. on TNT.

Reading between the lines

There's some serious grumbling among the other networks about the subtle but perceptible cheerleading going on in TV Guide for Fox programming.

Don Ohlmeyer, the head of NBC's entertainment division, wrote a letter to the magazine decrying this week's cover story on the Fox program "Party of Five," which TV Guide called the "best show you're not watching."

Privately, network and cable officials are also grousing, and for good reason, about the weekly "Sportsview" column that Fox football analyst Terry Bradshaw has begun writing for TV Guide, which, like the network, is owned by Rupert Murdoch.

Bradshaw replaced Jim Baker, who writes a television column for the Boston Herald, which is also owned by Murdoch. Baker's TV Guide columns were fair and impartial. Let's hope Bradshaw's will be the same.

Retrievers on the radio

The UMBC men's basketball team makes its third appearance of a minimum 11 on WWLG (1360 AM) tonight at 7 when the Retrievers travel to Boston University, with Doug Weinstein on the call.

Other UMBC games include contests against UNC-Asheville (Jan. 20; Feb. 17), UNC-Greensboro (Jan. 22; Feb. 3), Liberty (Feb. 5), Charleston Southern (Feb. 10), Winthrop (Feb. 12), and the team's participation in the Big South tournament, starting Feb. 29.

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