It’s official: NBC sports coming to Connecticut

STAMFORD–NBC and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy pulled back the curtain today on details of a long-rumored deal to bring NBC Sports from Rockefeller Center to a sprawling, 32-acre campus where Clairol once produced and distributed hair products.

Months after giving $25 million to ESPN, the Malloy Administration has promised  $20 million to rival NBC, the sweetener in a deal to bring 450 jobs to a city that already was home to elements of NBC and its new owner, Comcast.

Malloy Lazarus

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, Mark Lazarus of NBC

The new home of NBC Sports will occupy part of a 770,000-square foot complex south of I-95 that a real-estate partnership purchased from Proctor & Gamble in 2010 with the intent of establishing a film, television and video production center.

The project now has its marquee tenant: a growing NBC Sports Group, whose assets include Versus, the 24-hour sports cable network owned by Comcast that is to rebranded in January as the NBC Sports Network.

NBC will invest $100 million to convert former warehouse and factory space into state-of-the-art digital studios. One of its co-tenants will be the National Hockey League’s cable network.

In a cavernous space destined to become studios and editing bays, Malloy joined Mark Lazarus, the chairman of the NBC Sports Group, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman and Michael Pavia, the man who succeed Malloy as mayor of Stamford.

Details of the move have dribbled out for weeks. With a broad smile, Malloy said it was “wonderful to be in a position to announce what has, after all, been the best kept secret of my entire administration.”

NBC will be the fourth company to benefit from Malloy’s “First Five” program, which has offered economic incentives to businesses promising to create at least 200 new jobs in a state long-suffered from no net job growth.

One of them is ESPN, the self-proclaimed “worldwide leader in sports” that now will have a Connecticut neighbor committed to building its own cable sports franchise, one result of Comcast’s purchase of NBC Universal.

“I am proud to make NBC a part of Our First Five program because of one word: jobs,” Malloy said. “This program is about job creation, and NBC will be doing just that here in Stamford – at least 450 new employees over the next few years.”

The state is giving NBC a $20 million loan, which the network will not have to repay if it hits job goals: retaining 113 jobs coming from elsewhere in Stamford and creating 450 new jobs, though “new” means new to Connecticut. Most of the jobs will come from New York and Philadelphia.

But the incentives seemed to be a relatively minor reason for the move.

Lazarus said the $20 million loan, as well as available tax credits, was a factor, but the move to Stamford was mainly driven by strategic goals. The ability to consolidate far-flung sports operations, including Comcast employees in Philadelphia, under one roof was a huge attraction.

“We believe coming together as an NBC sports unit in one place will help us have a creative efficiency and an ability to build products that serves customers, consumers and sports fans for years to come in a way that no other business – with all deference to your other partner (ESPN)…can or will do,” he said.

But the state has hopes that the ever-growing ESPN will be the model for NBC on one score: that it will continue to invest and grow jobs in Stamford just as ESPN has done in Bristol.

“We hope this is just the start,” said Ron Angelo, the deputy commissioner of economic development. “Look where ESPN was 10 years ago.”

The value of tax credits will not be known until the state reviews NBC’s spending on the project, Angelo said.

“There’s no way to know,” he said.

The NBC Sports Network will carry college football, Major League Soccer, the NHL, IndyCar racing and the Tour de France.

Paul Koopman, the senior director of broadcast engineering for Versus, said he had scouted the site three years ago, long before it was clear that Comcast would obtain NBC. He said he hid his network affiliation, placing gaffer tape over a logo on his jacket.

The site is nearly unique, offering a combination of high ceilings, open floor space, adequate power and robust  airconditioning necessary to house a major broadcast facility, he said.

But he said the network explored other locations: “We had to look at Phliadelphia. We had to look at Denver. We had to look at Jersey.”

The announcement comes a day before the General Assembly is expected to approve a $291 million package of financing for the Jackson Laboratory to construct a genetics research institute for at the UConn Health Center in Farmington for The Jackson Laboratory of Maine.

While the Jackson Lab deal is controversial among Republicans, several GOP legislators attending the announcement today expressed their support for the NBC project. State Sen. Scott Frantz of Greenwich, a critic of the Jackson Lab proposal, said, “I’m very impressed with this deal.”

Rep. Livvy Floren of Greenwich said the tax credits encouraging digital media companies to locate and expand in Connecticut is good public policy.

The Malloy Administration previously has cut economic development deals with CIGNA in Bloomfield, TicketNetwork in South Windsor, ESPN in Bristol and the digital animation company, Blue Sky Studios in Greenwich.

Lazarus said the ability to consolidate far-flung sports operations, including Comcast employees in Philadelphia, under one roof was a huge attraction. NBC’s Olympics’ unit, already in Stamford, will move there, too.

The mood was light at the press conference.

Bettman, who later expressed gratitude that no one asked him about the prospects of the NHL returning to Hartford, joked that the NHL had such a long relationship with Versus, now part of NBC.

“We figured enough dating,” he said. “It was time to move in together.”