IOC Likes American Money But Not Much Else About the States
By Evan Weiner
August 17, 2009
8:00 PM EDT
(New York, N. Y.) --There are quite a few American women athletes who should be fuming at the decision by International Olympic Committee’s Executive Board to keep softball out of the competition in 2016. The American women who play softball are quite good, maybe too good for Olympic competition although Australian women are very good as well and it should be noted that the last Gold Medal Olympic Softball team was from Japan, not the United Sates.
That Japanese team will be the defending Gold Medal winning squad until at least 2020 because softball will not be played in 2012 or 2016. The International Olympic Committee has added golf for the 2016 Games which means they could have Tiger Woods competing and that means extra eyeballs in front of whatever technology will be used in 2016, a TV, computer, cell and a variation of rugby will be played as well. “Rugby seven” features just seven players per side instead of 15 and the matches are shorter.
Golf is played globally and rugby is another widely played international sport but there are four major golf tournaments annually that eclipse the Olympics -- the Masters, the British Open, the US Open and the PGA Championships -- along with the Ryder Cup. International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge is a former rugby player on the Belgium National Rugby Union team. The addition of rugby to the competition means that the International Rugby Board will have to step up marketing incursions into the BRIC countries, Brazil, Russia, India and China, along with the United States and Canada. Rogge and the IOC will give rugby an international platform which could bolster rugby’s profile.
Rugby is a minor sport in all of those countries.
Golf has big names, sponsors that don't worry about mass marketing but go after a specific demographic and there is the Tiger Woods factor. Although Rogge denied that bringing golf into the Olympic family has nothing to do with money, it is hard to believe he is telling the truth. That would not be the first time an International Olympic Committee leader would be stretching words.
The 2014 and 2016 Olympics American TV deal still needs to be negotiated and there is a good case that money and star power, golf and Tiger, triumphed over softball for that very reason. Seven years from now, Tiger Woods figures to still be a prominent player on the Tour, his name is gold to advertisers and frankly the IOC likes every nickel or pence that can scrounge up. It is usually nickels though as the IOC likes mintage or paper with dead presidents and other American movers and shakers portraits or busts.
The big TV money comes from the United States and in the past two decades that meant General Electric's NBC division. GE/NBC has given the IOC billions.
The IOC passed on negotiating a TV deal for 2014 this year because the business/advertising/marketing climate is not good, Tiger Woods is a leverage chip whether Rogge wants to admit it or not. GE will make a bid, Disney (ESPN) figures to also promise big dollars and perhaps Rupert Murdoch and FOX will want in, but Murdoch will need a cable TV network with more pop than the patchwork regional cable sports TV networks around the United States. FOX News Channel will not pre-empt programming for the Olympics although Murdoch does have a bunch of cable networks at his fingertips including FX.
The United States and the IOC are not good business partners. The IOC takes and takes and takes and cedes nothing. The reason that baseball is not in the Olympics competition has more to do with Major League Baseball not bowing to the IOC's demands of having "big name" pro stars in the Olympic competition and probably far less than steroids usage. Simply put, MLB owners and players don't look at the Olympics in the same way that Rogge and the IOC does.
The IOC thinks the Olympics are the end all of sports competition, the pinnacle, except for World Cup Football (soccer). Only a fool and there are a lot of fools that have led the IOC over the decades would believe the Olympics experience is more important than the World Cup and Olympic organizers take what they can get from FIFA in terms of players. Not every great active football player participates in the Olympics. An Olympic Gold in football pales when it is placed in competition with the World Cup. Countries have gone to war over the World Cup qualifying tournament (Honduras and El Salvador in 1969)
America seems to have no sway with the IOC despite being the biggest backer of the Games. There is one other aspect of the relationship between the IOC and the United States that is overlooked. In 2004, who made sure that the Athens Games and the participants in the Olympics were safe?
Not IOC security. Not Greek security.
The cost of defending Athens and Greece between July 2004 and October 5, 2004 when the Paralympics Games ended was estimated to be more than $1.5 billion. Much of that cost was picked up by the United States who at the time was fighting two wars, one in Iraq and the other in Afghanistan.
The Greeks planned to use American Patriot Missiles to shoot down planes or other possible airborne threats if they needed to do so. The United States, along with other countries, had plans to evacuate its athletes in the event of an attack. NATO and the United States supplied spy aircraft, there was a blimp hovering over Athens that was complete with sophisticated sensors. The Greek Air Force flew constant patrols.
Back in 2004, it seemed that intelligence agencies were so sure that some group (not necessarily Al-Qaeda) would attempt to attack the Games that training to stop terrorists has become an Olympic event. In 2002, there were more American boots on the ground in Utah than in Afghanistan.
With all due respect to Canadian military and Canadian law enforcement departments, the United States military and law enforcement officials will be in Vancouver later this fall and winter to help secure next February's Vancouver Winter Games. Vancouver is just quick drive up I-5 and British Columbia Highway 99 from Washington State and there is already a major tightening of the US-Canadian border. The Americans will also be present in the United Kingdom in 2012 when the Olympics stop is in London.
The United States Olympic Committee is involved in a battle with the International Olympic Committee over a proposed USOC channel which would show past Games featuring American achievements along with pre-Olympics events in various sports. The IOC is afraid if the USOC goes ahead with the channel, it would hurt the international delegates' standing with General Electric and NBC and dilute the value of the Games which garners in billions from GE/NBC. GE/NBC has the rights just to the Vancouver Games and the 2012 London event. Perhaps the IOC is worried about the USOC cannibalizing the 2014 or 2016 TV deal which is why Tiger Woods becomes so important.
Softball officials could try again in 2020 but Major League Baseball probably has the right idea in walking away from the Games. There really is nothing that can be gained, baseball has the World Baseball Classic and while it is not on the level of Football's World Cup, it is a cash cow for baseball and they do not have to share the revenues generated with the IOC, a group that seemingly has one hand in the pocket, grasping the wallet of a partner.
Softball is not a cash cow for the Olympics. Where would Rogge and the IOC be without American TV dollars and America's military? That thought is a nightmare but the IOC pushes Americans around regularly. The IOC will take American TV money, accept bribes, although that practice has publicly stopped, use American soldiers to protect Olympic venues but they don't want minor league and college level baseball players in their tournament nor do they want softball. You see neither brings in the currency and cash on the barrelhead is what they IOC is all about, particularly American greenbacks.
Softball players deserved better, they work hard and for virtually every softball player the Olympic competition is the pinnacle but they don't have Tiger Woods on their side and Rogge played rugby. If softball officials wanted to get back at Rogge and the IOC they should schedule their own tournament and keep all of the revenues. If softball is a money generator, the IOC will be back. Money generation, not competition, is the heart and soul and business of the Olympics.