A Team Torn Apart
The momentum created by the gold medal performance of the women's gymnastics team in Atlanta has been slowed by a promotional struggle that has turned the Magnificent Seven into the Somewhat Less Magnificent Six Plus One. On Monday night in Houston, the Six—Amanda Borden, Amy Chow, Dominique Dawes, Shannon Miller, Dominique Moceanu and Jaycie Phelps—were scheduled to perform as Team USA in the first of nine competitions involving the six of them. (The opponents on Monday are a team of gymnasts from Russia, China, Belarus and Canada.) Those competitions, as well as a 34-performance exhibition tour, are being sponsored by John Hancock, Jefferson-Pilot Corp. and Bill Graham Presents.
The One, Kerri Strug, was not in Houston, nor is she likely to join her former teammates at any of the exhibition stops. Strug has instead cast her lot with a tour sponsored by Magic Productions Inc., a Cleveland-based company that produces Broadway musicals, figure skating exhibitions and the shows of magician David Copperfield. "We've been reading that Kerri wants to be a team player," says Miller, "but she's the one who broke up the team."
True, but she may have had good reason: Some observers believe the other gymnasts undersold themselves to the Hancock tour. Each was to make about $3,500 per exhibition stop, which amounted to $119,000 for appearing in all 34 performances. There were also guaranteed appearance fees for the competitions, ranging from a top of about $90,000 down to about $60,000. That brought the take for a headliner like Dawes to about $210,000.
Was that a fair reflection of their market value? Eddie Einhorn, a TV consultant and co-owner of the Chicago White Sox, thinks not. Last month he offered the Magnificent Seven $1 million each to join yet another tour. Dawes's advisers explored the possibility of breaking her contract but decided they could not, and the others—except for Strug—pledged fealty to the original tour. The Einhorn offer, though, did bear fruit for the gymnasts: The athletes' pay on the Hancock tour was increased to about $6,000 per stop, or an additional $85,000 per gymnast, and the competition appearance fees were also increased. The Hancock tour representatives would not reveal those revised guarantees.
Meanwhile, USA Gymnastics, the sport's governing body, will receive 24% of the Hancock tour's net ticket sales, or nearly $2.5 million, and several of the gymnasts' coaches (including Miller's Steve Nunno and Moceanu's Bela Karolyi) have made undisclosed financial arrangements with Hancock to travel with the tour. Einhorn, among others, finds those arrangements far too cozy. "I think the athletes are being ripped off," he says, "and too many other people are making too much money."
The people involved in the Hancock tour deny that and say—rightly—that they took considerable risk by making a financial commitment before anyone knew how golden the U.S. golden girls would be. "We've been involved in this long term," says Stan Feig, one of three tour promoters. "These other tours have been pure ambush."
Says Miller: "It has been very confusing. We were getting all kinds of advice from all areas. The bottom line, though, is that we love Kerri and hope we can work something out. We want to be a team again."
If the Name Fits...
Joe Robbie Stadium is now called Pro Player Park after the apparel company that agreed to pay $20 million over 10 years for the honor. While the name is appropriate to a stadium that is home to the Miami Dolphins and the Florida Marlins, it seems an odd moniker for a park that will also serve as host to college football teams in the Orange Bowl game and the Nov. 23 matchup between Maryland and Florida State. Then again, given the climate of today's big-time college ball and the fact that in 1993 six Seminole players accepted money and merchandise from agents, Pro Player Park may be apt after all.
A Man of Style, and Substance