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MISER WITH A MIDAS TOUCH
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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The Olympics is such a seller's market, in fact, that Ueberroth accomplished the slick feat of selling his "decommercialized Games" to his commercialized partners. "Our restrictions on our sponsors are more severe than even the IOC rules," he says. "There will be no signs of any kind in any stadium. We've even restricted the airspace overhead."

As for Ueberroth's pet project, the sponsorship of youth sports programs, he says it stems from an awareness that, for kids 13 and over, organized sports in America are geared to developing only "elitist athletes" at the expense of the vast majority of the nation's youth. Therefore, in addition to having sponsors contribute to a $1 million fund for purchasing tickets to the Games for underprivileged kids, Ueberroth is pushing the LAOOC Youth Activities Program. Converse, for example, with Magic Johnson as chairman, is sponsoring a series of halfcourt, three-on-three basketball tournaments in Los Angeles, New York and Washington, D.C. Also underway are the ARCO Jesse Owens Games, the Buick Olympic Youth Synchronized Swimming Championship, the Anheuser-Busch Olympic Youth Gymnastic Tournament, the Easton Olympic Archery Tournaments and the Coca-Cola Olympic Youth Soccer Tournament.

Other Ueberrothean measures: The tradition of granting the radio rights to the Games free of charge was abandoned, the LAOOC exacting $500,000 from the ABC Radio Network for the honor; the organizing committee won't foot the bill—as has been the practice—for the large congresses the various sports federations and the IOC hold in the host city immediately preceding the Games, thus saving approximately $17 million: and there will be no free limo service, either, for the legions of officials, real and self-appointed, who descend on the Games. Not to be inhospitable, LAOOC staffers have been using their own cars to pick up Olympic emissaries at the airport, which in one case meant that two Soviet dignitaries were introduced to the L.A. freeway system in a 13-year-old family sedan.

Ueberroth is not inherently cheap, claims Harry Usher, the general manager of the L.A. Games. "He just wants to make sure he's getting all the cluck for his buck." For the 200 salaried people on the LAOOC staff at present, as compared to the 2,000 workers Montreal had on the Olympic payroll at the same juncture, the feeling is contagious. "I think the biggest saving," Usher says, "is the creation of an atmosphere in which everyone who works here has a sense that they have to pack in a full day's work and we're going to stay lean and mean. Peter sets that tone and it just kind of ripples on down."

When he does leave his desk, it is for a 30-minute chauffeured drive from the LAOOC offices to his home in Encino. There, along with Ginny, their three daughters and a son plus three dogs, he raises oranges, grapefruits, tangerines, peaches, kumquats and wine grapes on three acres. With a pool, family paddleball and basketball games and, inevitably, roundtable debates at the supper hour, the Ueberroth lifestyle is "forward-moving all the time," says Ginny.

Ueberroth does his serious unwinding at their summer place near Laguna Beach that he was attracted to as a boy. "We bought a little place there on the beach several years ago and everyone laughed and said how dumb we were to buy it," he says. "It was a ratty, ramshackle thing, but Ginny redid it and now it's spectacular, just spectacular. It's also fantastic for skin diving. I'm pretty average, but we can get out there and catch corbina and halibut. Not with spear guns. Just with a sling—a spear with a piece of surgical tubing. It's really sporting."

The family fish fries are spelled by outings for tennis, skiing and golf, at which, Ueberroth says, "I've developed a high degree of mediocrity." Actually, he's accomplished enough on the golf course to have finished fifth with his partner, Gary Koch, in the 1980 Bing Crosby Pro-Am.

But into each idyll some strain must fall; when not fending off complaints about the LAOOC being too secretive and uncommunicative, Ueberroth is denying claims that he will use the Games as a springboard to high political office.

"I don't like the public thing," Ueberroth insists. "I think I'm good at running something, and a politician doesn't run anything." Not that he hasn't thought about life after the Games. Nine months after taking the LAOOC job, which pays him $115,000 a year plus expenses, he sold First Travel to Carlson Companies, Inc. of Minneapolis for $10.1 million, and he now wants to expand his horizons. "Most likely," he says, "I'll try to find a major corporation that's in trouble. That's the fun of doing something. The bigger the company and the more disastrous its position, the more it would interest me."

Right now, though, the future for Ueberroth is 1984. The present is "grind time," he says. "We must grind away on every detail. You don't get a second chance with the Olympics. You have to do it right the first time."

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