In L.A., Olympic Committee Learned How to Turn a Profit

THE JOURNAL RECORD, July 17, 1992 | Go to article overview

In L.A., Olympic Committee Learned How to Turn a Profit


From the moment they got a look at the bid book, it was clear to International Olympic Committee members that the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles would be different. The first sentence in L.A.'s paperund, photocopied document read: "Arrangements are to be spartan." And they were.

After the debacle in Montreal, no other city wanted the Games. Angelenos didn't particularly want them either _ a City Charter amendment vowed not to give the Olympics one red cent.

International Olympic Committee rules, up to this time, decreed that the host city was financially responsible for the Games. L.A. said, "No way." And that left it up to the private sector.

Enter Peter Ueberroth, a selfde boy wonder who turned his startomratch Van Nuys travel agency, First Travel Corp., into the second largest in North America. A millionaire several times over, he assumed the presidency of the Los Angeles organizing committee in 1979, when it had no money in the bank, no bank account and no office. He took $100 out of his wallet and opened an account.

His first order of business was selling TV rights. The original bid committee budgeted $105 million, but Ueberroth had some friends in the ad industry run some numbers to find out what they were really worth. Then he set a $200 million minimum, to the astonishment of his advisers. Neither CBS nor NBC would stretch that far, but ABC jumped up to the challenge, offered $225 million and agreed to throw up a $75 million broadcast center.

Next order of business: He wasn't building anything. But sponsors could. The Southland Corp. built the $4 million 7-Eleven Velodrome; McDonald's picked up the $4 million tab for the natatorium; and Atlantic Richfield kicked in $9 million to refurbish the old Coliseum and build some training tracks. The committee's construction crews worked wonders with hundreds of gallons of paint, baling wire and temporary bleachers.

Now, typically, international sports federations would prefer to send their athletes to play in monuments. And they do what they can to encourage host cities to build new, glorious, state-ofet stadiums, tracks and swimming pools.

But when the international rowing federation vetoed Lake Casitas as a venue, Ueberroth sent a telex: If you don't like Lake Casitas, we won't have rowing. It's that simple.

And when the field hockey federation insisted the committee install $2 million worth of artificial turf made by its "official sponsor," Monsanto, instead of a free field donated by an L.A. supplier, Ueberroth said he was sure field hockey would have a nice competition in 1988. …

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