6:49 PM EDT, June 7, 2011
Was Jacques Rogge simply swept up by the euphoria that can follow having $4.38 billion fall into your lap?
Was the International Olympic Committee president whispering sweet nothings Tuesday when he heaped praise on the United States and seemed to be all but begging for a U.S. city to bid for the 2020 Summer Olympics?
(And, if the U.S. Olympic Committee presents such a bid, might Chicago be interested in trying again?)
Or was this much ado about nothing, since Rogge had said almost exactly the same nice things about the United States' contributions to the Olympic movement in an exclusive interview with me 10 months before the IOC voters trashed Chicago's bid for the 2016 Summer Games?
Now that the IOC has awarded NBC the rights to four more Olympics -- 2014 through 2020 -- for the princely sum mentioned above, there is the matter of where the 2018 Winter Games and 2020 Summer Games will be.
Next month, the IOC will pick the 2018 Winter host from candidates Munich, Germany; Pyeongchang, South Korea; and Annecy France.
Countries have until Sept. 1 -- less than three months from now -- to submit a bid city application for the 2020 Summer Games. So far, Rome is the only official applicant, with Tokyo expressing strong interest.
USOC chief executive Scott Blackmun told me Tuesday by telephone from Switzerland the first matter of business between the USOC and IOC is resolving the longstanding dispute over the shares of U.S. television rights (12.75 percent) and the IOC's global sponsorship program (20 percent) that the U.S. currently receives. There is tremendous pressure on the USOC to take a smaller cut.
But Blackmun did not rule out a 2020 bid and said he had talked informally to people in a few cities, including Chicago 2016 bid chief Patrick Ryan, about such a possibility.
"We recognize the importance of having the Games in the United States and remain open-minded,'' Blackmun said. "But our position hasn't changed; we are only going to spend time on a 2020 bid if we resolve the revenue discussions.''
Ryan said Tuesday his discussions with Blackmun were ``very general. . .principally about how they (the USOC) were improving their relationships with the IOC.''
NBC's $4.38 billion might make it easier for the sides to reach an agreement on the revenue sharing issue by early July, as the USOC hopes, since neither side has to worry as much about where its next meal is coming from for the next nine years. Under the terms of the current deal with the IOC, the USOC's share of the new TV rights would be $558 million.
Even in a recessionary environment, the total for four Games represents a percentage increase over the $2 billion NBC paid for 2010 and 2012 and demonstrates that the Olympics remain a valuable property in the United States.
"I think this can only be a positive factor in the discussions we are having with the United States Olympic Committee because they now have financial security for the next two quadrennials," Rogge said in a Tuesday press conference. "That leaves them (the USOC) in a comfortable position until 2020, so I think that is a good sign.''
The NBC deal also assured the IOC's financial security, as Rogge noted. So one might think it would be in the IOC's interest to throw NBC a very large bone -- or a whole side of beef -- as a reward. The treat? A 2020 Olympics in the United States.
Asked about the possibility of a U.S. bid, Rogge said:
``We are very indebted to the United States of America for what they have done in the past and are doing now for the Olympic movement. You are the country that has organized the most Olympic Games, with the best athletes in the world. If there is a bid coming for 2020 from the USA, we would be very happy.''
In December, 2008, Rogge had said to me, ``There is this fundamental trust in the inherent values of the United States being a very strong country politically, democratically, economically. . .I am a great defender of the place and the role of the United States in sport.''
In October, 2009, Chicago's 2016 bid finished last. Four years earlier, New York's was a distant fourth of five finalists for the 2012 Summer Games.
Maybe that is why Ryan, who said he would have no resonsibility in a future Chicago bid, didn't get excited about Rogge's asking for a U.S. candidate.
``He would want as many cities as possible,'' Ryan said. ``So he would want a U.S. bid. I wouldn't have expected any other comment from Jacques.''
Several U.S. cities -- Dallas, Minneapolis / St. Paul, Pittsburgh and Tulsa -- have made public expressions of interest in bidding for 2020. Two-time host Los Angeles, which lost to Chicago in the domestic competition to be U.S. bidder for 2016, would seem the best-prepared 11th-hour candidate other than Chicago.
Barry Sanders, chairman of the Southern California Committee for the Olympic Games, declined to comment on any conversations with the USOC but did say in an email his organization "will always be ready, willing and able to bid for the Games when that is appropriate.''
During the Winter Olympics in 2010, Blackmun had all but closed the door on a 2020 bid. It's open a bit now because things have changed -- notably the increased pace at which the revenue discussions with the IOC have gone.
And even if the NBC deal seems like more of the same -- NBC will have broadcast 11 straight Olympics by 2020 -- it has a big change as well: a promise by the network of "plausibly live'' to show everything really live on a broadcast or Internet platform, beginning with the 2014 Sochi, Russia Winter Games, eight time zones away from New York.
"It's imponderable," Blackmun said of a U.S. bid for 2020 before the IOC and USOC figure out how to divide sacks of money.
But he clearly was pondering it.
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