Sunday, July 12, 2009

The USOC and Chicago 2016

This doesn't look good for Chicago 2016.
Just as Chicago tries to ride out one storm buffeting its bid to host the 2016 Olympic Games, it could face another problem: possible backlash from a money-related dispute between the U.S. Olympic Committee and the International Olympic Committee.

"I don't see how this can help," IOC Executive Board member Richard Carrion of Puerto Rico said via telephone Wednesday.

This week, Chicago's 2016 Olympic boosters unveiled a plan to meet with residents of all 50 wards in an effort to rebuild support in the wake of a controversy sparked last month when Mayor Richard Daley said he would sign a host-city agreement placing full financial responsibility for any losses on the city.

Now, Chicago's bid faces another potential hurdle because of actions not of its making.

The IOC is upset that the USOC, which would reap huge financial benefits from a Chicago Summer Games, went ahead Wednesday with an announcement about its Olympic television network launch with Comcast, despite the IOC's advice to wait until contractual issues were resolved.

The dispute boils down to what impact the U.S. Olympic Network will have on IOC cash cow NBC, the network of the Olympics in the United States through 2012, and to a long-standing question about marketing rights and use of Olympic marks that 1978 federal legislation granted the USOC.

In an interview with the Tribune after the IOC's position first was reported by The New York Times, USOC Chief Operating Officer Norm Bellingham said Chicago 2016 was not involved in discussions about the Olympic network.

"If this damages the [Chicago] bid, it would be deeply unfortunate, and it is in no way our intention," Bellingham said. "We are not trying necessarily to advance the Chicago bid, but we believe we are trying to advance the Olympic movement in the U.S. territory."[...]

The latest problems began after USOC Chairman Larry Probst called IOC President Jacques Rogge on Friday to let Rogge know of the impending announcement about the network, scheduled to launch after the 2010 Winter Games with programming that would include Olympic-related competition and archival Olympic footage.

Rogge advised the USOC to discuss the plans with IOC television director Timo Lumme, which Bellingham did by phone Monday. A day later, Lumme sent Bellingham what amounted to a cease-and-desist letter.

According to sources familiar with the letter, it expressed strong concerns about the network and said the IOC was not sure it would allow the USOC to use Olympic symbols or archival footage.
Here's a letter sent from the IOC to the USOC. It's not pretty, not at all.

The Chicago Tribune has comments from NBC Sports chief Dick Ebersol:
NBC Sports Chairman Dick Ebersol, one of the most influential players in the Olympic world, blames the United States Olympic Committee for jeopardizing Chicago's chances to win the 2016 Summer Olympics.

"The only thing that can cost Chicago the Games is continuing squabbles between the two parties," Ebersol said Friday via telephone, referring to the latest quarrel between the USOC and the International Olympic Committee.

"And this one clearly is all on the USOC, no two ways about it."

This problem arose when the USOC went ahead with its Wednesday announcement about the 2010 launch of a U.S. Olympic television network despite the IOC telling it to delay the announcement until contractual issues were resolved.

Chicago has the best American bid I have ever seen," Ebersol said. "It is heartbreaking to see the continuing USOC-IOC squabbles get in the middle of it."

NBC's interests play a major role in this dispute because the IOC wants to protect its cash cow. NBC paid $5.7 billion for U.S. rights to the seven Winter and Summer Olympics from 2000 through 2012, which amounts to more than half the IOC's global TV revenue.

Talks for U.S. rights to the 2014 and 2016 Olympics are expected to begin after the Oct. 2 vote in Copenhagen on the 2016 host. Rio de Janeiro, Madrid and Tokyo are the other finalists.

The USOC and IOC also have been embroiled in a long-standing battle over USOC share of U.S. broadcast rights. That had led to exchanges of vitriol hurting Chicago's bid until the parties agreed at a March meeting in Denver to start fresh negotiations after the 2016 host decision.

Ebersol said "absolutely not" to the question of whether the latest dispute doomed Chicago's bid.

"[Chicago] needs to make sure the IOC knows they were blind-sided just like the IOC was and that they will do their best as intermediaries to bring peace to the valley," he said.

Ebersol said it became starkly evident Chicago stood to lose in the latest dispute after the IOC issued a statement Thursday saying it was "disappointed the USOC acted unilaterally and, in our view, in haste."

He felt that statement was guaranteed to attract the attention of the IOC electorate, some of which would "come in full bore on the USOC and, consequently, Chicago."

"The IOC was forced to explain its position publicly when they probably would just as soon have settled this privately with something in it for both parties," he said.

"By rushing this announcement, [the USOC] put the IOC in a position where they have to react to protect their interests in the overall climate of the [upcoming] television negotiations and the Olympic advertising marketplace."[...]

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