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SYDNEY 2000 / SUMMER OLYMPIC GAMES | LOOKING AHEAD
/ 2002 Winter Olympics / Salt Lake City/ Feb. 8-24

Organization Man

Salt Lake Games May Forever Be Linked With Corruption Scandal, but Mitt Romney Has Restored a Sense That the Winter Olympics Will Be Fun

October 01, 2000|ALAN ABRAHAMSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

An example of the cuts: $12 million in decorations. Romney stresses a belief that none of the trims will affect what he calls "the field of play."

To compare, the budget for the Sydney Games is about $1.5 billion. The 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta cost local organizers about $1.7 billion.

Unlike in other countries--in Australia, for instance--the state and federal government in the United States do not contribute directly to the operating budget.

Thus the onus is on the local organizing committee to line up sponsors. In a twist that may at first seem to defy common sense, the reality of a Winter Games in the United States is that it takes even more sponsor money than it does to stage a Summer Games.

The practical impact of the scandal is that, as Romney dryly puts it, it made identifying and convincing potential sponsors to sign up "a particular challenge."

To meet Romney's $1.319-million budget total, for instance, SLOC must raise $518 million from sponsors. Atlanta organizers raised $426 million.

Why so much more?

The Summer Games traditionally are worth more to broadcasters, and TV rights are typically the largest source of any organizing committee's revenues. NBC, for instance, paid $705 million for the rights to the Sydney Games and $545 million for Salt Lake.

The other major difference is tickets.

There are considerably more events at the Summer Games than the Winter Olympics, and Summer Games events are often held in huge stadiums. Sydney's Olympic Stadium has been packed to its 110,000-seat capacity this week for track and field. The marquee sport in Salt Lake, figure skating, will be held at the Delta Center. For the Olympics, it will seat about 14,000.

"It'll be magic," Romney says of the Salt Lake Games. "Inspiring. But it's much smaller."

Atlanta took in $425 million in tickets. Salt Lake's budget estimate for tickets is $180 million.

The bottom line: "When I came on, we were $375 million behind in sponsor money," Romney said. He and Mark Lewis--SLOC's new vice president for marketing--have since added 28 new sponsors. They still need $76 million to make $518 million, but Romney said, "At this stage we're on sound footing financially."

The "remaining area of most concern," he said, is government funding.

A General Accounting Office report fixes the total government outlay for the 2002 Games at about $1.4 billion. That sum is separate from SLOC's $1.319-billion budget.

Most of the government money, $1 billion, is for the reconstruction of Interstate 15, which cuts through Salt Lake City and is a project that local officials say was needed regardless of the Games.

The rest is split between transportation funds, $245 million, and security, postal, customs and other operations, about $200 million.

Roughly $77 million in transit funds from the government's fiscal 2001 budget remains to be appropriated, Romney said. If it doesn't come through, he said, "We're in deep trouble."

If the money does come through, if there's snow in February 2002 on the Wasatch range, if everything works out--enjoy the moment. These Games could be the last on American soil for a very, very long time. The scandal still resonates among significant factions within the IOC, who blame Salt Lake City--and, by extension, the United States--for the trouble.

More embarrassing revelations involving the IOC are likely to emerge as the Welch and Johnson cases near trial. On Saturday, the Salt Lake Tribune reported that in June 1998--before Romney took over--SLOC officials went to lengths to arrange the purchase of Viagra for two visiting IOC members. The newspaper did not name the two delegates.

"I've come into a tough setting," Romney said a few days ago in an interview.

"But the idea here is to make the Games successful for our athletes, for the United States and for the Olympic movement. That's the focus."

SALT LAKE CITY

Salt Lake City was settled by Mormons seeking a place to practice their religion without persecution. The pioneers arrived in 1847 with Brigham Young, their leader. The area was initially named Deseret. Within three years, they had founded the University of Deseret, now the University of Utah.

Though the area was barren and had a plague of crickets and was set upon by many on their way to the California gold fields, the Salt Lake City area blossomed under Young's leadership.

The Great Salt Lake, 17 miles west of the city, is a huge salt-water lake. It is 48 miles by 90 miles, only about 45 feet deep and from 5 to 15% salt, which is two times saltier than the ocean.

People can float like a cork in its water. The lake is part of an ancient lake known as Lake Bonneville. The salt flats in Nevada were once part of this immense lake.

POPULATION

The population of Salt Lake City, the largest city in Utah:

1990 159,936

1996 172,178

1999 174,348

CLIMATE

Salt Lake City has four seasons. The surrounding mountains modify the climate, low moisture helps the region with low humidity and in the winter, dry, powdery snow for the "greatest snow on earth."

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