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Peacock Power
Sally Jenkins
December 25, 1995
Talk about smoking the competition: With the 1996 Atlanta Games already in hand, Dick Ebersol of NBC Sports has grabbed five more Olympics—in the years 2000 to 2008
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December 25, 1995

Peacock Power

Talk about smoking the competition: With the 1996 Atlanta Games already in hand, Dick Ebersol of NBC Sports has grabbed five more Olympics—in the years 2000 to 2008

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Ebersol had serious doubts about the chances of success. "I thought it was one in 10 at best," he says. He brainstormed furiously, determined to make the scheme as attractive as possible to the IOC. Using his self-described talent for "saying what people need to hear without it costing us too much," Ebersol came up with an inspired sweetener: an offer, to broadcast a weekly Olympic magazine show from 1996 to 2002. Ebersol knew coverage in non-Olympic years held appeal for Samaranch. "I knew they had always wanted a regular vehicle," Ebersol says.

The NBC trio landed in Göteborg at 10 a.m. on Aug. 3 and stole into the local Sheraton, where numerous IOC officials and the ABC contingent broadcasting the meet were billeted. But there was a mix-up: Pound wasn't in Göteborg, and Samaranch wasn't expected until that night. The NBC team piled into a back room of the hotel. "A room without windows," Ebersol says. They stayed there all day, fearing they might be spotted. "We camped out and ordered up cigars," Ebersol said. "The room stank."

At about 5 p.m. Gilady, who had a good cover in his IOC membership, went to the lobby to find Samaranch, who arrived minutes later. Gilady whispered to Samaranch that Ebersol was upstairs with a proposal. Ebersol and his aides took a service elevator to the top floor of the hotel and crept down the hall to Samaranch's room, past the doors of ABC staffers.

When Ebersol made his presentation, he was adamant on one point: He had to have an answer by Friday afternoon, with confidentiality in the interim, or the offer would be redrawn. After just 20 minutes Samaranch had heard enough. "He said, 'Deek, this is a very, very impressive idea,' " Ebersol recalls. Samaranch then asked Ebersol to travel to Montreal the next day and make the same presentation to Pound.

That night Ebersol and his team dined in private with Samaranch. Instead of discussing the deal, Ebersol talked about Atlanta and about the subject of the senior thesis he wrote as a history major at Yale in 1969: then-IOC president Avery Brundage.

Ebersol and Falco were up at dawn to jet to Montreal. He was horrified to see his driver in the lobby holding a sign that read DICK EBERSOL, NBC. "After all that secrecy...." he says. Fortunately no one else was in the lobby.

"On the plane, Falco slept. I worried," he says, and he came up with yet another sweetener: He would offer the IOC $20 million worth of promotional airtime. As the Gulfstream IV neared the Canadian coast, Ebersol spotted a huge iceberg, which he considered to be a good omen. Later he found out that the sighting was just 25 miles from where the Titanic sank.

At 10 a.m. on Aug. 4, the NBC contingent arrived at Pound's office. Ebersol outlined the deal. Pound immediately called Samaranch. "We should do it," he said. The group lit cigars, and Pound began writing draft agreements on his laptop computer. After three drafts they had a deal. NBC had not one but two Olympics, Sydney and Salt Lake City.

It was 4 p.m. Friday, 55 hours after the process had begun.

Three days later, after a press conference to announce the agreement, Ebersol phoned Samaranch as a courtesy. Samaranch congratulated Ebersol on the "stability" they had achieved and on the "partnership" they had forged. After Ebersol hung up, he was struck by Samaranch's repeated references to the long-term nature of their relationship. "I sensed something in his voice," he says. He called Wright and said, "I think we can do another deal."

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