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NBC Sports President Ken Schanzer retiring

The news is not a surprise given Ken Schanzer's closeness to the just-departed Dick Ebersol and his recent hints at retiring. But their exits less than five months after Comcast's takeover are raising eyebrows in the industry.

May 27, 2011|By Joe Flint, Los Angeles Times

Just one week after Dick Ebersol resigned as chairman of NBC Sports Group, his top lieutenant announced he was retiring from the network after 30 years.

Ken Schanzer, 66, who has served as president of NBC Sports since 1998 and oversaw negotiations for some of the network's biggest sports rights deals, said Thursday that he would leave at the end of summer.

The departure of Schanzer is not a surprise given how close he is to Ebersol and that he had been hinting at retiring for the last few years.

"For those of you who've heard this before … this time it's for real," Schanzer said in an internal memo to his staff.

That both Ebersol and Schanzer are leaving less than five months after Philadelphia-based cable giant Comcast Corp. closed its deal to take a majority stake in NBCUniversal from General Electric Co. has raised eyebrows in media industry circles. Ebersol, who had been associated with NBC for almost 40 years, left abruptly last week after failing to come to terms on a new contract and bumping up against Comcast brass including NBCUniversal Chief Executive Steve Burke.

Mark Lazarus, a former president at Time Warner's Turner Broadcasting who was brought in last December to oversee Comcast's regional sports network, is replacing Ebersol. It is not clear whether a successor to Schanzer will be named as well.

The exits of veterans Ebersol and Schanzer come as the company prepares a strategy for its bids on the 2014 and 2016 Olympics next month. Since taking over NBCUniversal, Comcast has repeatedly said it does not want to overspend on sports given that NBC lost $233 million on the 2010 Olympics. Others expected to bid include News Corp., parent of Fox Broadcasting, and Walt Disney Co.'s cable sports empire ESPN.

"Sports is a conundrum," said Comcast Chief Financial Officer Mike Angelakis at an investment conference this week. "I think we're going to be very financially disciplined on it.… We look at this as a business, and we're here to make money for our shareholders."

Although Schanzer did not have the high profile that Ebersol enjoyed, he was a key behind-the-scenes figure at NBC. Among the rights deals he oversaw were the network's contracts for the National Football League, Notre Dame Football, horse racing's Triple Crown and most recently the National Hockey League.

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