February 12, 2002, - 8:41 pm

What’s So Great About the Olympics? Part II

By Debbie Schlussel
Welcome to the Salt Lake Olympics. You’re paying for it through the nose.
The Games are sponsored by the likes of McDonald’s, Allstate Insurance, and Home Depot. But the largest sponsor is the U.S. taxpayer . . . without any of the perks.
Tired of tax-funded stadiums for pro sports teams? You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
When our Hockey team won its meaningful Gold in 1980 at Lake Placid, NY, it was the last time the U.S. held the Winter Olympics. Athletes slept in a prison and organizers nearly declared bankruptcy on a $168 million budget, according to the Associated Press. Today, the Winter Olympics will cost nearly $2 billion–$791,667 per athlete. U.S. taxpayers will pick up nearly $1 of every $5 dollars spent on the Salt Lake City event (a GAO report says we’re paying for at least $380 million of the Games’ budget). That doesn’t include the $1.1 billion in federal transportation funding of projects, like Interstate 15 reconstruction and building light rail in Salt Lake.


And even though it’s called “the People’s Games” by savvy Olympic marketers, don’t expect prime seating or even a ticket in the nosebleed section for your funding. The only thing involving “the People,” here, is forcing average American working stiffs to pay the tab. The good seats go to highly-paid marketing and advertising executives of sponsors. Even athletes’ relatives and friends have to use binoculars. I should know, because in 199–the last time the Olympics (Summer Games) were held here–I represented U.S. Olympic Diving Silver Medalist Scott Donie, as his agent, and attended the Games in Atlanta. For the privilege of $300 each, his family and I got to be bleacher creatures with a postage-stamp sized view.
In an individual sport, like diving–one of the few events left whose participants are truly amateurs–which doesn’t get much play anywhere but during the Olympics, the Games are the culmination of years of training for very little money and working part- or full-time jobs. But Olympic Committee honchos, who got billions in sponsorships from mega-companies like Coke and Delta Airlines, weren’t interested in sharing any of the largesse with these other real working stiffs–the amateur Olympians.
Rules set by Olympic execs are so strict, they’re reminiscent of Shakespeare’s Shylock exacting his “pound of flesh.” Any sponsorship insignia on my client’s swimsuit–other than by a company paying the U.S. Olympic Committee mega-millions–was restricted to a few millimeters. Despite his years of training, in order to get a decent endorsement deal and abide by the strictly enforced Olympic rules and regulations, Scott would have had to get a permanent tattoo in a spot prominent to the TV cameras.
So much for “the People.”
Our tax-money coupled with exorbitant ticket prices will fund things like the $2 million twisted glass Olympic cauldron and a $291 million system to gather competition results for the media and fans. IBM, a past Olympic sponsor, decided it wasn’t worth paying for this time around, so now we get to be the lucky “investors,” along with Gateway computers which donated $20 million worth of cable.
Millions will also be spent wining and dining sponsors’ bigwig executives–money that could be better used to offset our “contributions”–you know, the $315 million security allocation the Congress granted the Olympics. President Bush, who attended Harvard Business School with 2002 Winter Games chief Mitt Romney, supports that allocation. Romney’s haphazard spending is not the fiscal conservatism and responsibility he preached in his 1994 run for the U.S. Senate against Ted Kennedy.
Certainly security is more important since September 11th. But why should we Americans–not Olympic sponsors and the well-paid US Olympic Committee–pay for it, especially when Romney won’t scale down Olympic spending, including the $28 million opening ceremony and an exorbitant, commissioned Alvin Ailey choreographed dance tribute to the late Florence Griffith Joyner? There isn’t even a bidding process to scale down costs. More money was blown on his choice of sand “legacy bricks” that disintegrated in cold weather and twice building the Utah Olympic Oval after screw-ups. It’s this waste of our money that led to the brisk sale of 2,500 “Mitt Happens” pins in Salt Lake.
NBC will take in over $720 million in revenue–a profit of up to $278 million–to broadcast the games and take-up its all-important, stated goal of heavily promoting curling to bring it mainstream U.S. status. So busy trying to make the Winter Games relevant in the absence of the Tonya-Nancy figure-skating catfight. But no contribution of any of the broadcast network’s profits to the cost of the Games. That’s our job.
Since we’re paying at least 19 cents of each dollar for the Games, shouldn’t we get something for it?
If you live near the U.S.-Canadian border, you’ll get something–less security and longer waits at the border. The Detroit Free Press reported that federal Customs officials were considering “reassigning inspectors from the U.S.-Canadian border–which does $1 billion in daily border trade–to help with the winter Olympic Games.” Ditto for the ATF and Secret Service, whose Michigan Special Agent in charge said his office would send “roughly half of its 45 agents” to the Olympics. Not to mention at over 15,000 National Guard troops, military people, state and local police, and federal agents. Good to know that national security and commerce for us regular people and businesses isn’t a priority when juxtaposed against the Games.
Romney claims the Games may break even. Maybe, for him and other Olympic bigwigs. For the rest of us, it’s a total bust.

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