The International Olympic Committee, which under Avery
Brundage, who was its president from 1952 through 1972,
refused to fully capitalize on the Olympic brand through
either television or advertising, now works hand-in-glove
with its commercial partners to ensure financially lucrative
Olympics. And nowhere is the impact of that arrangement
more noticeable than in the United States.
Americans will be bombarded in the coming months
by political ads from a myriad of candidates and parties.
The message: Vote for me/us. But they also will be deluged
during the sixteen days of Olympic action by multinational
corporations eager to demonstrate that their association with
the IOC makes them worthy of consumer dollars. The IOC
will endorse this advertising blitz, as corporations acknowledge
that they are official Olympic sponsors. Network television
belongs in that group. NBC will offer events live on television
and online, and then reserve for prime time the live or taped
events that its leaders believe will generate the highest ratings.
How did we get here? What factors contributed to
television — both as a mechanism to show the Games
live (and recorded) and as an advertising monster —
becoming so essential that the IOC has abandoned all
pretense of recognizing amateurism in favor of money,
money, money, money?
The answer begins in 1984, when Los Angeles hosted
the Summer Olympics. Because the Los Angeles Olympic
Organizing Committee did not receive any government
money, it acted as a private corporation. That had never
happened before. When it came to negotiating television
rights, LAOOC officials demanded a refundable $500,000
bid fee. IOC officials were not happy, principally because no
one within the organization had been alerted to the plan and
Los Angeles officials had no intention of sharing the money.
In September 1979, a tentative deal was reached with ABC
television, and no IOC official played a significant role in the
negotiations. But proving that throwing money at a problem
can make it go away, the deal required a $25 million payment
to be sent to IOC headquarters before the end of the year.
ABC agreed to pay the LAOOC almost $225 million for
the television rights. Never before had a network agreed
ON YOUR MARKS, GET SET, SPEND:
MONEY, TV, AND THE OLYMPIC GAMES
BY ANTHON Y MORET TI
In a few weeks’ time, athletes from more than 200 nations will gather in Rio de
Janeiro for the 2016 Summer Olympics. And, as has been the case since the 1984
Olympics in Los Angeles, the athletes’ quest for gold, silver, and bronze will be
matched by the International Olympic Committee’s quest for green.