NBC buys Olympic Team Handball through 2020: Will they capitalize on that purchase?

A re-imagined home page for

On Tuesday, NBC outbid ESPN and Fox for the U.S. TV rights for the 2014, 2016, 2018 and 2020 Olympics for $4.38 billion dollars.  That’s $4,380,000,000, or as I like to say a lot of “zeroes”.   And part of that purchase is the right to broadcast the Team Handball competition at the 2016 and 2020 Olympics.  It’s highly doubtful that Team Handball factored into NBC’s winning bid, but that point is moot.  Regardless, they own Team Handball’s most prominent showcase in the U.S.  Which leads to a couple of questions:

Will NBC broadcast more Team Handball in the upcoming Olympics?

To NBC’s credit they pretty much web streamed every men’s and women’s match in 2008.  Broadcast TV options, however, were somewhat limited.  While more Team Handball was shown than ever before most of it was broadcast on the Life and Bravo networks.  True devotees could find it, but the “stumble upon” opportunity for new fans was pretty small.  With the recent merger of NBC and Comcast, however, NBC will have more channels to broadcast events like Team Handball and it wouldn’t surprise me if the packaging of sports like Team Handball, Field Hockey, sailing, etc is more consistent.  So, yes, I think we’ll get more coverage in London, Rio and 2020.

Will NBC broadcast Team Handball outside of the Olympics?

While it’s nice to get the Olympic stage every four years in the U.S., the bigger question is what will happen in between Olympics.  As anyone who follows Team Handball in the U.S. knows the sport receives very little exposure on TV.  Baby steps have been made like the Comcast broadcast of the Germany-Poland match in 2010, German Bundesliga matches on the My Sports Germany channel and the Mhz network’s broadcast of the EHF Game of the Week this past season.  All well and good, but again these options have limited market penetration and are more for the true devotees than potential new fans.  To really spur the sports growth in the U.S. a committed patron willing to showcase the sport on a major network is needed.  Will NBC be that network?

There’s at least a chance they will be.  Buried in the reporting of the NBC victory, was a small snippet (only reported in a few media outlets) that the contract allows for the creation of an Olympic Channel if NBC, the USOC, and IOC can come to an agreement.  You might recall that back in 2009 the USOC trumpeted the creation of an Olympic Channel agreement with Comcast (which was then a separate entity from NBC).  Less than a year later, however, the USOC sheepishly shelved the project due primarily to NBC and the IOC both expressing displeasure with the USOC going at it alone.

A year later the landscape has changed dramatically.  NBC and Comcast are now a merged company and that merged company has bought the Olympics through 2020. The USOC is playing nice with the IOC and is planning to renegotiate the USOC’s financial share of U.S. Olympic TV rights.

Moreover, NBC has shown just how well they can promote a low profile sport if they put their mind to it.  Back in February, I wrote an article profiling what they are doing for Rugby 7s with their annual World Series event in Las Vegas.  Just this past weekend they showed several hours of a collegiate rugby 7s tournament in Philadelphia on NBC, the Versus network, and the Universal Sports channel, which has a web streaming and
broadcast presence.  In fact, I would venture to guess that this Universal Sports channel will soon be rebranded the Olympic Channel.

And it doesn’t take much to imagine Team Handball getting a presence on this web page.  Hence, my doctored photo of their homepage.  While it might have been expensive for NBC to travel to Guatemala for a Team Handball qualifier there’s plenty of content available which would have minimum production cost.  The EHF Champions League, the German Bundesliga, the World and European Championships, next spring’s Olympic qualifying tournaments.  Throw in a few events where the U.S. is participating and you have a nice channel to complement the rugby, cycling, and swimming options.

I know you’ve heard this before so many times.  But, Team Handball will sooner or later have a place in the American sporting consciousness.  It won’t take up as much space as our major sports, but if there’s room for Rugby 7s, lacrosse, etc., there’s room for Team Handball.  Here’s hoping that NBC will see the light.

Broadcasting and Cable (7 Jun 11) Confirmed: NBC Universal Wins Bidding for Olympic Games:

THN (9 Jul): Olympic TV channel set to launch after 2010 Olympics:

THN (1 May 10): U.S. Olympic Channel venture officially over:

THN (28 Feb 11): Promoting Team Handball in the U.S. (Part 1): Las Vegas Rugby 7s Tournament: Undoubtedly, a model to follow:

THN (12 Mar 11): Promoting Team Handball in the U.S. (Part 2): How is Rugby getting promotion done right?: