SI Vault
Ray Kennedy
November 22, 1982
Peter Ueberroth was hired by the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee to stage the 1984 Games cheaply. Now he predicts a profit
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November 22, 1982

Miser With A Midas Touch

Peter Ueberroth was hired by the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee to stage the 1984 Games cheaply. Now he predicts a profit

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For example, John Martin, ABC vice-president in charge of sports programming, was twice impressed by what he saw and didn't see of Ueberroth during negotiations for the TV rights to the L.A. Games. The LAOOC president played a key role in hammering out a record $225 million contract with the network, Martin states. But when it came time for the traditional "class picture," in which the combatants lovingly lock arms like battered boxers after the final bell, Ueberroth had slipped away to give a speech to the Los Angeles County Deputy Sheriff's Department. "I thought it was ironic," says Martin, "that after we had put in all those hours negotiating and it was now time for a little glory, he was off doing other things."

"The nice little things that are being done quietly," in fact, are what Ueberroth seems proudest of. To wit: the recent dedication of a new velodrome and the LAOOC's new headquarters building, both ahead of schedule and under budget, and a strong equal-opportunity policy that is reflected in the makeup of LAOOC management, which is 41% minority personnel and women.

An inveterate list-maker, Ueberroth tends to, well, numericalize things when he speaks as well. For example, when asked why he took on so awesome a responsibility, he says, "One, because I believe that Los Angeles can put on the greatest Olympics ever. Two, because it will immensely benefit employment and boost the economy of Southern California. And three, because of the challenge of doing something right one time."

Likewise, by the numbers, herewith a sampler from Ueberroth's list of firsts:

1) The $225 million deal with ABC, the largest transaction ever made for a single TV event, will result in the largest amount of coverage ever committed to a single TV event—some 220 hours over 16 days.

2) The L.A. Games, with a record 14,000 athletes from 150 countries, says Ueberroth, will mark "the first time that everybody is coming since World War II. The People's Republic of China is sending a team for the first time in 50 years. Originally, they intended to bring 30 athletes. Now they plan to bring 300."

3) The 1984 Games will also introduce a record 15 new events, 11 of them for women. "All told," says Ueberroth, "45 percent of the athletes in the 1984 Games will be women as opposed to only 25 percent at the 1980 Games."

A full appreciation of the unique nature of Ueberroth's undertaking, or what LAOOC literature calls "another American Great Experiment," requires a bit of background. Way, way background.

Fifty summers ago, when Los Angeles was less than one-third its present size, the city hosted the 1932 Olympics. As if conjured by Cecil B. De Mille, the X Games rose out of the depths of the Depression to become a full-blown epic that set the pattern for the opulent, wildly expensive Olympics that were to come. Among other wonders, the 1932 Games boasted a magnificent Coliseum (built in 1921 for football and baseball and refurbished for the Games) and, for the first time ever, a picturesque Olympic Village.

The bigger, better, grander fever of the 1932 Games touched off a series of financially disastrous Games, culminating with the deficit that saddled Montreal's citizenry with a stiff 20-year surtax. Once deemed a high honor, acquisition of the Games fell into such disrepute that Los Angeles suddenly found itself the sole bidder for the 1984 Olympics.

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