There is statesmanship and there is salesmanship and there is brinkmanship. One of Arledge's favorite tactics has come to be known as "the ABC closer." It is an artless device, but only men with strong, steady heartbeats should try it. As a competitor explains it: "They throw out a figure—probably somewhat larger than expected. Then they say the offer will be withdrawn if not accepted within 24 hours."
There is no better example of the tension, intrigue and burglar's courage required in a summit negotiation involving Arledge and ABC than the story of how the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich—a juicy plum for any network—came to rest in ABC's fruit basket.
As is common in these things, negotiations opened surprisingly early—in March 1968, months before the Mexican Games even began. "I made the Germans a bid of $6.5 million for rights," says Arledge. "I thought it might be too much, but I didn't want to wake up and see in the morning paper that NBC had just landed the '72 Games." To be certain there would be no misunderstanding, Arledge flew to Munich himself with his bid and presented it to Herbert Kunze, secretary general of the Organizing Committee for the 1972 Olympic Games. Anxiously Arledge watched for Kunze's reaction to the offer. The German was silent for a moment, then looked up with deep sadness in his eyes.
"Is that your whole offer?" he asked.
Puzzled, Arledge replied, "Yes, Herr Kunze, that is my whole offer. Why do you ask me that?"
"I am very disappointed," answered Herr Kunze. "Most disappointed."
"Then please tell me what you're thinking of," Arledge said.
"We were thinking of $30 million," Kunze answered. Arledge gulped and said in a strangled voice, "I, well, I don't know how to answer you, Herr Kunze. I have been in these negotiations dozens of times, and never have I been off by $23 million."
The $30 million was, of course, a mad preliminary feint on the part of the Germans. The asking price skidded down rather rapidly to $20 million, then $16 million. NBC was active in the bidding, too, and in January of 1969 Carl Lindemann flew to Germany and met with Dr. Klaus von Lindeiner, a lawyer on the Munich committee. NBC had opened at $9.5 million and upped its ante to $11 million with a promise that there would definitely be more—even though a 26-page NBC accounting report indicated that the break-even point came at around $10 million.
ABC countered by slowly upping its ante, for top network brass had come to an epic decision—ABC would junk 47 hours of its prime-time programming and replace it with Olympic extravaganzas. (At one point Chuck Howard, ABC vice-president of program production, was reminded that television of the national political conventions of 1972 might conflict with ABC's August schedule for the Olympics, and Howard boldly replied, "I think the political conventions might do well to schedule their business so it doesn't run head to head against the Olympics.")