SI Vault
Kenneth Reich
March 05, 1984
From the eagle mascot to the prospects for its success, everything about the L.A. Olympics looks bright and cheery, except for the mood of the organizers
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March 05, 1984

Ready To Play, Sam?

From the eagle mascot to the prospects for its success, everything about the L.A. Olympics looks bright and cheery, except for the mood of the organizers

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Still, without the two leading sources of revenue of most past Olympics—government appropriations and a public lottery—Ueberroth has tried to come up with ways of making extra money when it's needed. When, for example, the Southern California Rapid Transit District found that its special Olympic bus lines would lose money, Ueberroth came up with a now-implemented plan to sell souvenir Olympic bus tokens, which some people presumably will collect. When the county sheriffs department demanded more money for providing security than the committee thought it could afford, Ueberroth negotiated the final details of a plan to sell special $100 California automobile license plates with the LAOOC logo, thus providing a projected $1.5 million for the sheriff. Sales, however, have been somewhat disappointing—only 5,000 of the special plates have been sold so far—and state officials have lowered their sales projections from 50,000 to 20,000. Recently, Ueberroth even figured out, with Sarajevo Winter Olympics president Branko Mikulic, a way that the two 1984 committees could profit from each other. Plans to produce a souvenir bronze Friendship Medallion in three different sizes were announced. They will soon be on sale in the U.S. for $2, $10 and $30.

Ueberroth also has pushed the concept of collecting payments from television contracts, commercial sponsors and ticket sales as far in advance as possible, thus enabling the LAOOC to bank the proceeds and earn interest on them. Until mid-1983 the committee's interest income exceeded its expenses. On ticket revenues alone, in the 2½ months before it began making refunds on orders for oversubscribed events, the committee received $44,650 in interest per day. Some disappointed would-be ticket purchasers have said the interest should have been tacked on to their refunds. Ueberroth has responded that even with the interest and a $1 nonrefundable handling charge on each ticket, the computerized ticket-distribution system, which is costing an estimated $27 million, will operate at a loss.

The big question about all of this is whether the Games will be a showcase for the free enterprise system or seem to much of the rest of the world, and even some Americans, to be too commercial. This issue was recently raised as part of the Greek objection to the plans for the torch relay. The IOC backed the LAOOC, but the matter aroused strong feelings at Sarajevo. Last week, the Hellenic Olympic Committee offered to cooperate if the line is drawn at the 2,500 kilometers already sold of the 10,000 being offered. The LAOOC released a statement rejecting the offer.

Whether commercialism spoils the image of the Games may well be determined by what value is given per dollar received. If Olympic purchasers are pleased by the Games, if they feel they have gotten as much as or more than they expected, the "private" Olympics will be seen as a success. If purchasers feel they've been ripped off, the reaction will be anything but positive. In this context, recent reports of impending price gouging in Southern California during the two weeks of the Games are disquieting. Los Angeles Times sports columnist Scott Ostler has warned that the City of Angels is in danger of becoming the City of Angles. Complicating the matter is the recent strength of the American dollar on the world market. From Sarajevo, where costs were remarkably low, the Olympics move on to L.A., where expenses will be high in any currency.

However, in both the public sector and at the Olympic committee, there are efforts under way to make L.A. more comfortable for the estimated 675,000 Olympic visitors, not to mention the area's millions of residents. These include a special bus service to carry spectators to the events and ease what some observers fear could be monumental traffic jams. In addition, some big employers have been considering altering workdays and at least two have already mandated vacations during the Olympics. There is also a bill now stalled in committee in the state legislature to move California's Admission Day holiday from Sept. 9 to another date for this year to create a four-day workweek during the Games. And government agencies have tried to regulate the chaotic market in private housing rentals during the Games by cracking down on unlicensed brokers.

With all this, it's hard to see why the LAOOC isn't more optimistic, why its attitude is so defensive. Why, for example, far in advance of any real terrorist threat, have the committee's offices been sealed off by security agents who demand to inspect a visitor's driver's license before admitting him—with an escort—to the premises? Why were rules established forbidding any committee staff member to so much as have lunch with a reporter without Ueberroth's personal permission? Why is the committee not more communicative with government officials, with its own sponsors, with people who wish to volunteer and work for it?

Ueberroth's answers aren't very revealing. Security is tight, he has not very convincingly explained, because the LAOOC needs to practice the procedures it will be required to use this summer. Press contacts are restricted, he has said, because it's important that the committee speak with a unified voice and put out official, reliable information. Overall communications, he keeps saying, are improving or will improve.

It's unlikely that the LAOOC will change very much. A few of the 21 executive board members privately express qualms about administrative policies. One said not long ago that Ueberroth may be a better starter than a manager, that he had done brilliantly starting his successful travel business and organizing the Olympic staff from the ground up, but that since then he has tried to be too much a one-man show. This critic, it can be safely said, won't go public. Similarly, IOC president Samaranch and director Monique Berlioux had expressed some semipublic doubts but now seem determined to support Ueberroth.

In the end, if political horrors don't intrude, great Olympic athletes will emerge and make the Games a rousing success. World records may be set left and right, as they were in Moscow, despite the boycott. The crowds will come out to fill virtually all of the seven million seats. The Olympics will be an inspiration as so many Games have been in the past. And nothing else will matter.

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