For the second time in a decade, NBC Sports is ready to get all dressed up with the possibility it will have nowhere to go.
NBC, which was burned badly by the U.S.-led boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, has agreed to pay between $300 million and $500 million for the rights to the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul.
Given the fact that virtually all the Summer Games since 1968 have been marred by boycott or incident, given the fact that using the Olympics as a political tool has become standard fare and given the turbulent state of world affairs, NBC stockholders might fear for their investment.
After all, despite contractual insurances protecting NBC financially against major walkouts, is it really worth the gamble of investing so much time and resources for an event that could be ruined at any moment by shifting political winds?
Many observers, myself included, think the days of "normal" summer Olympiads are over. Even in the unlikely event that all nations agree to come together to compete, there are the growing security risks involved: with the world's eyes focused on one stage for two weeks, the potential for political statements or violent acts seemingly increases.
But in the face of these political realities, Arthur Watson, president of NBC Sports, smiles, lights up a cigarette and politely disagrees with his questioner.
"We think this will be the first Olympics in 12 years where all countries will be there," he said recently. "There are certain championship events taking place now that all nations are (participating) in, and that's very positive.
"The Soviet-bloc nations want to address the needs of their athletes. They missed out on 1984 . . . By every indication we have, everyone will be there."
In case everyone's not there, NBC does have contractual provisions to reduce its rights fees.
The only way NBC will not broadcast the 1988 Games at all is if the United States were to pull out, just as was the case in 1980. NBC, which paid $90 million for the Moscow Games, recovered much of that money through a Lloyd's of London insurance policy.
This time around, the "insurance" will come strictly through the Seoul Olympic Organizing Committee. "We will have substantial reductions in our rights fee if certain countries (such as the Soviet Union, East Germany or Cuba) aren't involved," Watson said. "We had to have insurances within our contract that would protect us against nonappearances of major countries."
NBC's unusual "risk-sharing" formula, in which the rights fee the network pays is tied to advertising revenues generated for the telecasts, has drawn a lot of criticism within the industry.
Neal Pilson, executive vice president of CBS/Broadcast Group overseeing sports, said his network was unwilling to negotiate in the area of revenue sharing. Jim Spence, senior vice president of ABC Sports, told the Associated Press the risk-sharing concept "is not one we would consider in our daily activities."
Watson, after first dismissing the criticisms as "sour grapes," said, "We evaluated that the Games were worth to us $300 million and they (the South Koreans) thought it was worth $500 million. That's a profound difference. So we came up with a unique formula.
"We had to protect ourselves. With a risk-sharing plan, if things were to change -- and things do change -- if we reached a certain level that generated $500 million, we'd be willing to pay that."
What's most curious is what might happen to the Olympic movement and future network interest if another major boycott of the Games occurs. If that were to happen, the networks might consider the 1992 Summer Games as beyond any risk-sharing formula that could be devised.