New NBC Sports chief Mark Lazarus is no stranger to big deals
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When he was a teenager, Mark Lazarus got to go the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y., where the U.S. hockey team made history with its “Miracle on Ice” upset of the Soviet Union and eventual gold medal win.
Now it’s Lazarus whose competing for the Olympics.
As the new chairman of the NBC Sports Group, Lazarus, 48, is headed off to Lausanne, Switzerland, to spearhead the network’s negotiations for rights to the 2014 and 2016 Olympics next week. Joining him will be top executives from NBC and parent company Comcast Corp., the cable giant that five months ago took control of NBCUniversal from General Electric Co. NBC has held the rights to the Olympics for more than a decacde but will face stiff compeition from Disney’s ESPN and ABC and News Corp.'s Fox if it wants to hold onto the games.
That Lazarus finds himself in such a key role is no surprise to those who have followed his career or know his family. He got to those 1980 games courtesy of his father, John Lazarus, who was a top advertising executive for ABC Sports and later Fox. One of his brothers is a vice president of news at ESPN and another has held senior sales positions at NBC and Univision. His cousin, David Lazarus, is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times.
Still, his rise to the top of NBC Sports came quicker than expected. Until two weeks ago, Dick Ebersol, the legendary executive whose deal-making made NBC the exclusive home of the Olympics for more than a decade, was set to lead the network’s delegation.
But a clash over a new deal with NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke led to Ebersol’s abrupt resignation. With no warning, his understudy was thrust onto center stage.
While not as high profile or outgoing as Ebersol, Lazarus is no stranger to big deals. When he headed Turner Sports, he landed contracts with the National Basketball Assn., Major League Baseball and NASCAR.
“Tough” is how NBA Commissioner David Stern described Lazarus. “He’s a very good negotiator. We haven’t always agreed on every point, but he is a man of his word and has great integrity.”
Called “Laz” by his colleagues, Lazarus, 48, grew up with a front-row seat to the glamour of sports and television. Raised in tony Chappaqua, N.Y., he and his brothers were a regular presence at Yankee Stadium when the Bronx Bombers were winning back-to-back World Series. He spent the summers of his college years working odd jobs at ABC, including operating a boom mike on the set of the soap opera “All My Children.”
While Lazarus has spent his entire life around larger-than-life executives and athletes, he’s kept himself grounded. Even at the 1980 Olympics, he had to earn his keep by working the hospitality suites and setting tables for the network’s after-parties.
‘Mark is a guy who doesn’t have a huge ego. As you get higher and higher in the entertainment business, that is rarer and rarer,” said Terry McGuirk, chairman of the Atlanta Braves and a former chief executive of Turner Broadcasting.
For more on how Mark Lazarus got to the top of NBC Sports, see our story in Friday’s Los Angeles Times.
-- Joe Flint