Until the U.S. Olympic Committee reaches some kind of new revenue-sharing agreement in the apparently endless negotiations with the International Olympic Committee, there will not be another Olympic Games in the United States.
That feeling is based, at best, on a presumed desire for fairness and, at worst, on resentment and anti-American hostility that runs through the Eurocentric IOC.
But USOC chief executive Scott Blackmun summed up – almost unintentionally – what makes the situation much more complicated in answering questions about the revenue-sharing discussions Sunday at the USOC media summit in Dallas.
“We are trying to strike a fine balance,” Blackmun said. “We do want to be a contributing and engaged partner in the Olympic movement. But to the extent we make financial concessions, it is going to affect America’s athletes.”
Why? Because more than 40 percent of the USOC’s four-year operating revenue comes from the 12.75 percent of U.S. broadcast rights and 20 percent of IOC global sponsorships. And the U.S. is the only significant Olympic player that not only operates without government funding but also trumpets that as a source of pride.
Many in the IOC see the USOC share as simple greed, repeatedly uttering an old and unsubstantiated chestnut about the USOC receiving a bigger share of such revenues than the rest of the world’s 200-plus Olympic committees combined.
Three years ago, USOC chairman Larry Probst broached the possibility of government funding, emphasizing that it would be examined, not that there was any plan to seek it.
That examination apparently revealed it was not a good idea.
“It’s hard to make a case we should receive government support when we have won the medal count at every (Summer) Games since Barcelona going without,” Blackmun said.
That reasoning doesn’t sell with IOC members. They think the USOC should simply take less of the revenue pie and fill in the gaps with money from Washington.
``I have heard comments from certain IOC members along the lines of, `You know, what's the matter with you guys?''' Probst said. ``I think the perception might be that if there is a lot of government funding, there would be more for everyone in the Olympic movement.''
Probst made those comments about government funding in 2009, a month before the vote for host city of the 2016 Summer Games. They clearly had no impact on the IOC members who sent Chicago to a humiliating first-round defeat in the 2016 vote that chose Rio de Janeiro as host.
Former USOC chairman Peter Ueberroth had exacerbated the acrimony in the discussions – which began in 2007 – by essentially telling the IOC to shove it, noting how much IOC money comes from U.S. broadcasters and global sponsors headquartered in the U.S.
Blackmun and Probst have taken a non-confrontational approach and kept their promise of not negotiating in the press, but Probst didn’t build EA into a global gaming behemoth by being a soft touch.
IOC President Jacques Rogge has told me several times in interviews that the Olympic Games needs a strong U.S. team. There is a financial reason for Rogge’s attitude, since NBC would not have kicked in $4.38 billion for rights to the next four Olympics if its audiences would have to watch poor U.S. performances.
At the same time, the IOC chafes at the American particularity: no government funding
Former IOC member Hein Verbruggen of the Netherlands, one of the most outspoken critics of the USOC, summed up that point of view in an email to me three years ago:
“(The) USOC was strongly promoting the Stevens Act (formerly the Amateur Sports Act, which codified the USOC's status), in which the U.S. government gave all rights for the use of Olympic logo’s and symbols to USOC in return of the guarantee of self-funding.
“Firstly the government `gave’ something it does not own and secondly it resulted in the fact that the richest country in the world is probably also the only country in the world with a government that spends zero money in its (elite) sport. The U.S. leaves this investment graciously up to the IOC and thus to foreign NOC’s (and their athletes who get less!!) and international sports federations.’’
So this is where we are, nearly two years after the latest round of IOC-USOC discussions began:
*The USOC has an open-ended contract determining its revenue shares. The IOC has threatened to challenge the open-ended part in court, but that notion has been deferred while discussions continue.
*The IOC seemingly is using an unofficial embargo – no Olympics in the U.S. – as blackmail to force the USOC to reduce its revenue share, because a home-soil Games produces dramatic increases in both domestic sponsorship revenue and general interest.
*Once the USOC gives up a penny, the IOC will find ways to ask for a dollar.
*Every U.S. athlete – as Blackmun noted - should be leery of any concessions.
The bottom line: there is no simple answer.