Ebersol Departs NBC Sports Group; ‘Relationships Are What I Cherish Most’

NBC Sports Group Chairman Dick Ebersol has resigned and will be replaced by Mark Lazarus, president of the NBC Sports Group. Multiple reports say that the reason for the departure was a contract dispute.

“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,” said Ebersol in a statement. “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.

“It has been a sincere privilege to tell so many remarkable stories that have inspired me throughout my entire career. Some of my favorite memories come from reading letters and talking to viewers who also have been moved by such powerful stories.

“I simply want to say thank you to all of those people who have touched me so deeply throughout my career,” he continues.

Ebersol, one of the most respected sports-network executives ever, has run NBC Sports since 1989 and has been an integral part in NBC’s ability to make the Olympics a major centerpiece in the NBC stable as the network has broadcast every summer Olympics since 1988 and every Winter Games since 2002. Richard Carrion, the IOC executive board member who negotiates U.S. rights, told The Associated Press on Thursday that Comcast CEO Brian Roberts confirmed the departure to him and that the NBC Sports Group is still onboard for an Olympic bid. The rights to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, and the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro will be negotiated in Lausanne, Switzerland, in June, but Ebersol is not expected to attend those negotiations.

“[Roberts] assured me they are 100% committed to the Olympics and the rights process,” Carrion said. “It comes as a complete surprise.”

Steve Burke, CEO, NBCUniversal, and EVP, Comcast Corp., said in a statement that Ebersol is an incredible talent whose contributions to the company over the past four decades in sports, news,  and entertainment are unsurpassed.

“Dick has masterfully produced everything from the Olympics and Sunday Night Football to the Triple Crown, NHL games, and major golf and tennis events,” explained Burke. “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.”

Lazarus joined Comcast last December from Atlanta-based Career Sports & Entertainment, where he was president of media and marketing. Prior to that, he was president of Turner Entertainment Group, overseeing all aspects of Turner Entertainment Networks, including Turner Sports. As head of Turner Sports beginning in 1999, he led the network’s acquisition of the rights to the NBA, NASCAR, MLB playoffs, Wimbledon, and the British Open, as well as the Internet rights to NASCAR.com, PGATOUR.com, and PGA.com.

“Mark will take over an organization that is well-positioned for growth,” said Burke. “Mark is an industry veteran who has worked with every major sports league, and I know that he will do a terrific job leading the team.”

Ebersol is the highest-level exec to leave the NBC Sports Group since NBC was acquired by Comcast last year. Earlier this year, Comcast named him to run the NBC Sports Group, which consists of NBC Sports, Golf Channel, Versus, and Comcast’s regional sports networks. His first major deal under the new regime was to retain National Hockey League rights for NBC and Versus for $1.9 billion over 10 years.

In 1975, as NBC’s director of weekend late night programming, Ebersol and Lorne Michaels conceived and developed Saturday Night Live. Ebersol returned to the network as president of NBC Sports in 1989.

The 63-year-old Ebersol’s dedication to the Olympics dates to 1967, when he temporarily dropped out of Yale to work at ABC as an Olympic researcher.

Ebersol became NBC’s VP of late night programming as a 28-year-old, the network’s first VP under the age of 30. After a brief departure, he returned to SNL in 1981 as executive producer and remained until 1985.

He focused on his production company before returning to NBC in 1989.

In December 2003, Ebersol agreed to a nine-year contract through 2012.