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The Steelers were involved in a slippery-substance controversy in 1973 when, following a 17-9 win over Oakland, they complained that the Raiders had smeared themselves with a Vaselinelike substance—and, for good measure, had also underinflated the footballs and written obscenities on one of them. The NFL later announced that it had investigated those charges but couldn't substantiate them. More recently, it's been bandied about that a prominent NFL quarterback has, on occasion, tried to make himself more elusive to would-be tacklers by spraying his jersey. But the ploy may have backfired. His receivers reportedly have complained that the substance gets on the ball, which makes it too slippery to catch.
For the benefit of the owners and those other doomsayers who warned that baseball's "competitive balance" would be knocked permanently askew by the advent in 1976 of free agentry, it is hereby noted that competition in the majors has declined to such a shabby state that only three of the 1980 season's four divisional races went down to the wire. It is further noted that when the Astros, Phillies and Yankees clinched their respective division titles at the 11th hour, it meant that eight different teams had won the eight divisional championships over the past two seasons. What's more, one of this year's playoff teams, Houston, was a perennial have-not that won a title for the first time. So much for fears that free agentry would impair competition.
But what about Kansas City, which won the American League West by a noncompetitive 14 games? Well, when free agentry arrived, baseball officials moaned that other teams wouldn't be able to compete with clubs in the largest cities, which can earn higher revenues and, thus, can afford to spend more for free agents. But Kansas City has the smallest population base of any big league team, and it has acquired exactly one newcomer via the reentry draft. Which doesn't mean the Royals are hurting for cash. They drew a tidy 2,288,714 this season and are continuing to spend millions on an extraordinarily productive minor league system. There is, it turns out, more than one way to build a winner.
All right, but what about the Yankees and Phillies? True, each won its fourth division championship in five years, just the sort of success the lords of baseball predicted for big-city big spenders. But New York and Philly have been no more active in the free-agent market than the also-ran Padres or Angels, and astute trading and fertile farm systems have also been integral to their winning. And that success has hardly hurt the game, witness the Yankees' alltime road-attendance record this season of 2,461,240. In fact, attendance was generally robust in both leagues in '80. Seems the owners were misguided in worrying about competitive balance—or about success at the ticket windows.
GOLD MEDALS, GOLDEN ARCHES
The 1984 Los Angeles Olympics are shaping up as the most commercialized non-commercial event in human history. Or, if you prefer, the most non-commercialized commercial event. Come again? Well, the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee has promised to stage a "de-commercialized" Games and, accordingly, has decided to solicit no more than 50 corporate sponsors, far fewer than the number of companies that got into the act during Olympics in Montreal, Lake Placid and even Moscow. Yet L.A.'s sponsors appear to be making up in substance what they lack in numbers. Though only eight have signed up so far, their commitments total a staggering $50 million. This sum includes $15 million from Coca-Cola, $10 million from Anheuser-Busch and $6 million from McDonald's. Big bucks, in other words.
The LAOOC defends these lucrative tie-ins by saying that television revenue and ticket sales alone would be inadequate to obviate the sort of deficits that plagued the Montreal and Lake Placid Games. Yet the organizers also insist that the '84 Games will avoid the commercial crassness of other recent Olympics. "It's a matter of quality," says Peter Ueberroth, president of the LAOOC. "Sponsorship has been overdone in the past. At Lake Placid it was distasteful. By refusing to sign up hairsprays, yogurts and that sort of thing, I think we'll have less chance of losing control. Also, we've been asking sponsors to make a deeper commitment to the community than at other Olympics."
That last point is borne out by L.A.'s novel approach to the problem of facilities. Committed to holding down construction costs by staging events in existing venues wherever possible, the LAOOC is enlisting corporations to build the few facilities it needs. And it has persuaded companies to put the facilities in locations where they figure to give lasting benefit. Thus, in addition to its sponsorship money, McDonald's has agreed to spend $4 million to erect an 11,000-seat outdoor swimming pool on the Southern Cal campus that will be used after the Games by the USC swim team, student body and community groups in the predominantly black neighborhood surrounding the campus. Similarly, the Southland Corporation, which owns the 7-Eleven convenience-store chain, has pledged $4 million for a velodrome on a still-to-be-determined L.A.-area campus. Ueberroth says that other corporations, including at least one in Japan, are also interested in putting up facilities, assuming that post-Olympic uses can be found for them. That is an important consideration because under Olympic rules commercial names cannot appear on sites used for the Games. As a result, the new pool will be known as McDonald's Olympic Swim Stadium—except during the '84 Games.