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Deal to mend fences with IOC caps marathon effort by USOC's Probst

USOC Chairman Larry Probst ignored calls to step down in 2009, then worked to end revenue-sharing feud with the IOC. His success restores U.S. hopes of winning a bid to host Games again.

May 24, 2012|By Philip Hersh
  • USOC Chairman Larry Probst, left, shakes hands with Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge after signing a revenue-sharing agreement with IOC on Thursday.
USOC Chairman Larry Probst, left, shakes hands with Olympic Committee… (Mathieu Belanger / Associated…)

When historians of such things seek the moment the U.S. Olympic Committee found a way to forge the agreement Thursday that put the U.S. back in the game as a potential Olympic Games host, they need look no further than Oct. 7, 2009.

It was five days after Chicago had suffered a humiliating first-round loss in the International Olympic Committee vote for host of the 2016 Summer Olympics. There quickly followed calls for heads in the USOC leadership to roll.

It was the day USOC Chairman Larry Probst got so angry about being called out by some of his constituents, including athletes and the heads of the national sports federations, that he vowed to show them.

"I'm not a person that backs away from a challenge," Probst said after the sports federation CEOs gave a collective vote of no-confidence in him and acting chairwoman Stephanie Streeter and called for both to resign immediately.

"And I'm not a person that runs from a fight. I think I can do this organization a lot of good."

Streeter resigned. Probst, founder and retired chief executive of video games giant Electronic Arts, promised a full-time commitment to the unpaid volunteer chairman's position.

And he has showed them — while helping the USOC end a self-imposed moratorium on bidding for an Olympics with the signing of a new revenue-sharing deal with the IOC.

Now the USOC can consider a bid for the 2022 Winter Games, which must be made by the middle of next year, or the 2024 Summer Games, which would be made in 2015. Given the current state of the U.S. economy, the 2024 option seems more promising, as it would be hard for any U.S. big-city mayor to get public support for an Olympic bid until the country has more economic confidence.

"We hope this has removed roadblocks to a successful bid for the U.S.," Probst said at a news conference Thursday in Quebec City, where the IOC executive board is meeting.

The events of that fateful October day began the chipping away at the barricades.

Streeter's departure led the USOC board, headed by Probst, to hire Scott Blackmun as chief executive two months later. He still is in the job after 21/2 years, a near record for what had been revolving-door USOC leadership.

Then Probst and Blackmun began a rapprochement effort with the IOC that led to the end of a seven-year revenue-sharing battle. It had contributed to the lopsided defeats of Chicago's 2016 bid and New York's 2012 bid.

No matter that the U.S. has the only national Olympic committee that receives no financial support from its government, no matter that the largest sources, by far, of IOC revenue are U.S. TV rights and U.S.-based multinational companies: Most of the world decried the U.S. share of that revenue as excessive.

The situation had deteriorated to the point the USOC decided not to make any new Olympic bids until it was resolved. That undoubtedly was a factor in the decision to begin serious new negotiations with the IOC two years before the agreed-upon start date of 2013.

Probst expects the USOC board to discuss when — or if — to make a bid for 2022 or 2024 at its next meeting in June.

Neither side would reveal details of the agreement signed Thursday, which runs through 2040. Numbers first reported by the Associated Press and confirmed by the Chicago Tribune indicate the USOC made reasonable concessions to achieve peace.

Under the previous agreement, which was open-ended, the USOC received 20% of the IOC's global sponsorship revenue and 12.75% of the U.S. broadcast rights fee. That provided more than 40% of the revenue in the USOC's quadrennial budgets.

Those percentages will not change until 2020. After that, the USOC will still get about the same revenue it currently receives but only 7% on any increases in U.S. broadcast rights and 10% of increases in sponsorship money.

The revenue baseline will be determined by an amalgam of the income received in the current Olympic quadrennium, which ends this year, and the next two.

The 2009 feud within the USOC seemed like just another example of how it had become an international and national punch line. But it catalyzed the changes that ended the feud with the IOC.

phersh@tribune.com

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