SI Vault
William Oscar Johnson
February 22, 1993
In Atlanta, yesterday's Olympic joy is gone with the wind as harried organizers count down to the start of the '96 Games
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February 22, 1993

The Clock Is Ticking

In Atlanta, yesterday's Olympic joy is gone with the wind as harried organizers count down to the start of the '96 Games

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Another difficulty in selling the partnerships popped up early last December when the Atlanta Journal-Constitution revealed that ACOG planned to sell a second tier of Olympic supplier (with a small s) sponsorships for only $10 million to $20 million. The story caused consternation among the original big-bucks buyers. "Part of the appeal of being a [national Partner] was having fewer...Partners and suppliers. That would eliminate the clutter," Brad Iversen, corporate director of marketing at NationsBank, said when the article appeared. Home Depot spokesman Lonnie Fogel said, "We have legitimate concerns about the devaluation of sponsorships."

Payne insists nothing has been devalued. "Our program has always been to get nine or 10 national Partner sponsors," he says, "and then make available different sponsorships with very greatly reduced rights." In fact ACOG has signed up no supplier sponsors, but Payne claims that the cheaper package is already in demand. "We have found that the universe of American companies interested in the lower level of $10 million to $20 million is significantly greater than we anticipated," Payne says. What the supplier sponsor would get for its money or payment in kind, however, has yet to be negotiated. "Our $40 million Partners will have something to say about the second-tier rights and privileges," says Payne.

None of the four big boys bolted after the Journal-Constitution story broke, but Payne is still furious at the paper for printing it. "Very little has been written accurately," he says, "and what has been written of late rocked the boat. The paper said that the difficulty and complexity of getting $40 million causes us to reduce prices. Nothing is further from the truth. Journalism was making news as opposed to reporting news, and it was doing a disservice to our efforts." Thomas Oliver, the editor in charge of the Journal-Constitution's Olympic coverage, says, "That story obviously caused some problems for Mr. Payne. I talked with him after it appeared, and he made it very clear that there were no factual errors in the article, but that what concerned him was that he had not told anyone about the supplier sponsorships yet. We stand by the story."

To Payne's frequent discomfort, the Journal-Constitution has taken an aggressive and proprietary approach to the Games, covering ACOG and other Olympic issues with a full-time team of two editors and five reporters, plus three more reporters who work the beat from time to time. "We know the public is very interested," says Oliver. "The general mood is, We as a community are 90-plus percent glad we got the Olympics. The big question is, Will a lot of people have the opportunity to participate, or is it going to be some good ol' boy network that is not open to most people?"

The paper runs Olympic stories almost every day and a full page called "Olympic Watch" in both the Saturday and Sunday editions. Payne sometimes finds the constant surveillance hard to take. An early riser, he usually devours the day's Olympic stories by 5 a.m. and has been known to telephone the reporter responsible for what Payne deems a negative story by 5:05 a.m. for a predawn tongue-lashing (no less painful for the writer despite the new shortness of Payne's tongue).

Payne, who has developed something not far removed from paranoia over Journal-Constitution coverage, should take comfort in the fact that the watchdog style of reporting on local Olympic committees by newspapers is routine. Dick Pound, the Montreal lawyer who is an executive board member of the IOC and has been a close observer of Olympics ever since he swam in the 1960 Games in Rome, puts it this way: "The nature of local newspaper coverage of the last 10 Olympics has followed a cycle that you could plot on a graph. First there is the exhilaration of winning the bid, boosterism, civic pride. Then comes the postcoital depression about whether the town should have the Olympics, whether it will be a disaster. This part of the cycle fits pretty much with the Atlanta situation now, because this a very boring couple of years in most local Olympic cycles. Nothing very interesting is happening—sponsorship sales, assembling building sites, negotiating contracts, stuff that really can't be done in the public eye. At this time the papers are searching madly for plots and counterplots.

"Then the buildings start to go up, there are things to see, the money is coming in, and suddenly everybody feels good. And then the Games come at long last, and they are, of course, a resounding success—just as they were going to be all along, with or without the coverage.

"Don't get me wrong; I think public examination of Olympic committees is helpful. It keeps certain types of people in line, and the free press has every right to cover these matters any way it wishes. But I guarantee you, the graph is there, the coverage can be plotted in advance."

Money shortages and newspaper coverage haven't been the only points of contention for ACOG. There was until late last month the sticky question of golf. Payne announced in October that ACOG wanted to add golf to the 1996 Games, though the sport had not been played at the Olympics since 1904. This was somewhat controversial since many IOC members consider golf an elitist, white man's game. Edgar Rogers, the black general secretary of the Zimbabwe Olympic Committee, said in November, "Only a very small portion of the population of any given country worldwide has access to a golf course. If it were admitted at the expense of a sport more widely played, it would have my objections."

What made Payne's announcement more controversial was that he intended to have the competition at storied Augusta National Golf Club, which has refused to allow women as members and has made only a reluctant nod toward racial integration: It added a single black member in September 1990 (and no more since) after nearly 60 years of being lily-white. The exclusionary aspects of Augusta National caused a great split in Atlanta, which got the Games in part because it had sold itself to the IOC as a model of progressiveness in race relations. Atlanta mayor Maynard Jackson, who is black, supported the use of Augusta, while the city council, 66% of whose members are black, condemned the idea.

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