Despite red ink, Games head to Brisbane and maybe Lake Placid
Posted: Sunday August 16, 1998 02:35 PM
NEW YORK (CNN/SI) -- Despite the pull on the deep pockets of Time Warner, the Ted Turner created Goodwill Games will continue in Brisbane, Australia in 2001.
The New York metropolis took a mostly ho-hum approach to the games, which ended Sunday, ensuring that for the fourth straight time they would lose money.
But Turner never viewed his pet project in terms of dollars and cents, willingly absorbing millions in losses for more ambitious gains. And Time Warner Inc., which now owns Turner's company and with it the Goodwill Games, embraces the same point of view.
So Michael Plant, president of the games, shrugged off the question of financial issues on the eve of Sunday's closing celebration.
"We always use the word `investment,'" Plant said. "We still believe at the end of the day, this will be the most financially successful games."
That is to say Plant expects the 1998 games won't add substantially to the US$109 million Turner lost on the first three editions of this made-for-television event.
"We will not discuss any final tally of revenue or expenses, as is the policy with any other project of the company," Plant said. "The people at the top are pleased with the results of the '98 games."
So much so that plans are moving ahead for the next edition, set for 2001 in Brisbane, Australia. That program will have 12 sports plus surf-lifesaving, with wrestling, water polo, synchronized swimming and soccer dropped.
Plant said Goodwill officials will have an operational plan in place within six months and a marketing plan set by March 1. There is even talk of adding a winter edition of the games, and Plant was quoted in Sunday's Newsday as saying plans were nearly complete for that addition in Lake Placid, New York, in 2000.
With television ratings up 25 percent from four years ago, organizers remain upbeat despite huge sections of empty seats for many events in New York. Even the figure skating, which featured such big names as Michelle Kwan and Todd Eldredge, struggled for fans. Only when organizers offered cut-rate $5 seats in the upper level of Nassau Coliseum did the building fill up.
Kwan and Eldredge did their parts, winning gold medals in figure skating. So did the other major players including Michael Johnson, Jackie Joyner-Kersee and Dan O'Brien in track and field, Cuban heavyweight boxer Felix Savon, swimmers Jenny Thompson and Aleksandr Popov, and the U.S. basketball, wrestling and women's soccer teams.
Their successes, however, must be balanced with the accident that left Chinese gymnast Sang Lan paralyzed. There also was a brief political protest that interrupted the U.S.-Iran wrestling match.
"The best is always when you go to an event and see what you have worked for unfold on the field of play," Plant said. "The worst is when something tragic happens -- like the case of Sang Lan -- that affects everyone deeply."
Sang remains in Mount Sinai Hospital, where she is beginning rehabilitation for her spinal cord injury. Doctors have said it is unlikely she will walk again.
Sang's tragedy created more attention than many of the events at the games and ticket sales never picked up any momentum.
"Our expectations when we started were to sell and distribute around 350-400,000 [tickets] based on 600,000 seats available," Plant said. "By the end of the games, we think we will be at that 350,000 number.
"Looking at New York, we were not naive enough to believe that we would sell out basketball every night. This is a very busy time of year -- and a challenging market in which to generate spectators."
Television has provided the best numbers for the organizers. Through Wednesday, Goodwill Games telecasts on the WTBS averaged 1.5, slightly higher than for Atlanta Braves games on the superstation and up 25 percent from the 1994 games in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Plant said the Goodwill Games is satisfied at having met three goals: --produce compelling television. --provide an opportunity for New York and Long Island to have a world-class event. --help youngsters through various programs.
Originally, the games were aimed at promoting world peace. With the Cold War over, the agenda now is to help children by raising money for the Boys & Girls Clubs and UNICEF. Plant said $5 million was raised for those charities.
"There is no corporate mandate that the games must turn a profit," Plant said. "The games do more than just contribute to the bottom line."
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