Tuesday, 19 November 2013 11:26
Imagine if the European Olympic Committees (EOC) were to purchase the Olympic Games broadcasting rights for Europe, or the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) bid against NBC and the other networks for the US rights.
Yet this, in effect, is what has just happened in the Caribbean.
On Monday (November 11), the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced it had awarded the rights for Rio 2016 in this region of palm trees and Olympic sprinters to CANOC Broadcasting Inc (CBI).
Much the most interesting part of the announcement, however, came in the final paragraph: "CBI is a company that has been formed by the National Olympic Committees (NOCs) and Commonwealth Games Associations (CGAs) across the Caribbean to purchase, monetise and manage the broadcast rights for the Olympic Games and other sporting properties."
This notion of NOCs entering the television rights business intrigued me so much I picked up the phone to Larry Romany, CBI's chief executive.
To summarise, Romany, who was President until recently of the Trinidad and Tobago NOC, gives me to understand a) that he wants to provide high-quality, Caribbean-focused coverage throughout the region; and b) that as much as possible of any margin the company makes would be used to develop Caribbean sport.
"We want to utilise the great value the Olympic rings have always had and allow the islands to appreciate what it really is to be part of the Olympic Movement," he tells me.
In many ways, key to the success of the venture will be the nature of the offer to sponsors/advertisers Romany intends to make.
Rather than treat the region as a hotchpotch of island microstates, with individual TV companies left to do their own deals for access to what, inevitably, are pretty small pockets of viewers, even for the most popular events, CBI itself would sign up sponsors wishing to target the entire 40-some million-strong region.
It would then embed the branding of these companies into all its programming.
He might not like the analogy, but it strikes me as an attempt to do for the regional sports advertising market what, a generation or two ago, the West Indies did for Caribbean cricket.
"We will bring all the sponsors to the table and be responsible for selling all sponsorship," he explains, adding that CBI will target Olympic TOP sponsors, regional multinationals and local sponsors.
"Some advertising time - perhaps 90 seconds out of 14 or so minutes of advertising per hour - will be reserved for local companies interested only in their local market.
"We will negotiate with TV stations on terms for broadcasting the programming in their particular market on a revenue-sharing basis.
"By doing that we can control ambush marketing."
Romany emphasises that an as-yet-undisclosed production company would put the programmes together and that the IOC will provide 10 different feeds of the action from Brazil, enabling different languages and points of interest to be catered for: if a St Lucian high-jumper is in action at the same time as a Haitian wrestler, there should be enough flexibility to enable each market to get the pictures it is most likely to be interested in.
So far, so innovative and interesting - and let's not forget that the region possesses the biggest current Olympic star of all, Usain Bolt - but is there not significant financial risk involved for the regional sports bodies?
After all, the IOC has not done this deal on the cheap: I understand CBI is paying $2.5 million (£1.6 million/€1.9 million) - a drop in the ocean compared to the $4.1 billion (£2.5 billion/€3 billion) the IOC expects to raise all told from broadcasting rights for the Olympic cycle encompassing Sochi 2014 and Rio 2016, but more than triple the $750,000 (£465,000/€555,000) paid in the previous quadrennium, and that was for both Winter and Summer Games.
Romany does not attempt to deny that the possibility of making a loss exists, but he makes three points.
1. CBI's model should help the whole region really get the most out of the Olympics and help sponsors to understand the full value of the Caribbean market. Both of these things would be beneficial from the regional NOCs' perspective and, hence, if necessary worth paying a certain amount for.
2. The regional NOCs know the score and realise it is possible - though not expected - that they might have to make further contributions to CBI.
3. "We feel that we are in a fairly good position regarding interest from sponsors. We don't think we will make a lot of money, but we don't believe we will lose any.
"Sponsorship revenue generated from the last Olympic Games from the three biggest island markets alone - Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados - would give us enough money to pay for everything we need."
And if the model works, what plans have been made for reinvesting the surplus in regional sports development, as touched on in Monday's announcement?
Romany explains that revenue-sharing would be on two levels: sports development programmes, targeting what he terms a "priority list" of development issues; and direct funding to regional NOCs for developing their own athletes.
He makes the point that smaller territories, such as Montserrat and the Turks and Caicos Islands, often have almost no access to funding, yet have a tendency to produce good athletes.
He pledges, moreover: "There is no way any of this profit is going to end up in any individual's hands."
The objective, he suggests, is to keep central costs, including the acquisition of further rights, down to such a degree that 85-90 per cent of any surplus would be channelled into development programmes.
He makes clear, too, that Rio 2016 is seen as just the start.
CBI would "most definitely" bid for the Winter Olympics in the next cycle, and expects to be in the market for future Pan American and Commonwealth Games, as well as world championships of particular interest to the region.
"We have every intent of owning the Olympic rights in perpetuity," he says.
As proof of their seriousness, CBI is to start making monthly video and radio magazine programmes from February 2014, "so that TV companies get Olympic content over an extended period, rather than just having a two-week bite at the cherry when the Games are on".
The Caribbean is a particularly fragmented region, but it does make you wonder if there might be other parts of the world where such a model could prove beneficial.
At any rate, I wish Romany and his colleagues well.