As scripted by David Wolper, a movie producer, the drama begins with a 1973 meeting of assorted showbiz moguls plotting the future of the International Volleyball Association, a new pro league they have created in Southern California. Looking on, a young newcomer of the button-down, conservative persuasion seems badly miscast, a callow babe among the flashy barons of the box office. Being interested in buying one of the IVA franchises, the newcomer listens impassively as Wolper, the league president, directs a discussion of several grandiose schemes that are guaranteed to loose a volleyball mania upon the land.
"We thought we were running the NFL," Wolper recalls. "But suddenly the new guy, this outsider, says, 'Wait a second. I'm not going to buy a franchise in this league. You guys don't know what the hell you're doing.' And then he proceeded to tell us everything we were doing wrong. He said all us 'Hollywood types' were spending too much money and ought to cut things down. Pay everyone a fixed rate, play in cheaper stadiums and run everything on a shoestring until we got established.
"And we said, 'Don't tell us how to run our league. We don't need your damn franchise. Take a hike.' "
Now the scene shifts to 1978 and another meeting in Los Angeles featuring Wolper and six fellow members of a mayor's committee assigned to find an all-purpose impresario to stage a little production number called the 1984 Summer Olympics, the one being billed as the first no-frills, debt-free, back-to-basics Games in modern history.
November 22, 1982
Going for someone with marquee value, the executive head-hunting firm hired to conduct the search approached such notables as Pete Rozelle and Alexander Haig. However, after surveying "zillions" of candidates in a two-month campaign that rivaled Hollywood's nationwide hunt for a lovable Annie, the search team presented the committee with a list of six finalists, none with name recognition.
Or almost none. For now, as the committee begins to weigh the qualifications of each finalist, one name on the list rings a very shrill bell in Wolper's memory. "Peter Ueberroth!" he exclaims. "He's the guy who tried to tell us how to run our damn volleyball league. And he was right. We went broke. That's the guy we need. If anyone can run a Spartan Olympics, the cheap sonofabitch can!"
And so it came to pass that Peter V. Ueberroth, age 45, prince of the private sector, the golden boy with a miser's touch, was named president of the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee (LAOOC).
Only in Tinseltown, the new adventure series starring Ueberroth and his dauntless Five-Ring Gang, is still in rehearsals for its grand finale two years hence, of course. And there will be many cuts and revisions between now and the time when the spectacle unfolds in the City of Angels from July 28 to Aug. 12, 1984, before a worldwide TV audience of some 2½ billion enraptured souls, or "more than half the living, breathing people on earth," as Ueberroth likes to put it.
But already the advance sales and merchandising of the big show are such a smash hit that Ueberroth—a man so laid back he's almost supine, as they say in Hollywood—was recently moved to remark, "It's working economically."
Which for him is a rave review. Indeed, in the wake of the staggering $9 billion the Russians splurged on the 1980 Moscow Games and the horrendous $1 billion deficit run up by the mad builders of the 1976 Montreal Games, the 1984 Los Angeles Games are shaping up as a model of modesty and restraint, the very mirror image, in fact, of their designer, Ueberroth.
At present, largely by holding construction to a minimum and using existing facilities—the Coliseum for athletics (track and field), the Forum for basketball, the Rose Bowl for soccer, Santa Anita racetrack for equestrian events, the UCLA and USC campuses for athlete housing, etc.—the total cost of the L.A. Games in 1984-inflated dollars is expected to round out at a nice unassuming cut-rate $500 million. "And we're doing our best to end with a 10 percent surplus," says Ueberroth.
Translation: The Five-Ring Gang is going to pull off a job that could rack up a $50 million profit. Can it be? Yes, it can, although Ueberroth would never say profit, the LAOOC being nominally a private nonprofit corporation. And cautious man that he is, he's still holding to an earlier projection of a $21 million profit—er, surplus—all of it, whatever the name or final amount, to go to the furtherance of amateur sports in Southern California (40%), throughout the U.S. (40%) and to the national governing bodies of amateur sports (20%). What Ueberroth does say unequivocally is, "Ours will be the most financially successful Games ever."
That's not bravado, those are the numbers talking. So believe Ueberroth when he says that to date, with more than $140 million in advance payments from sponsors piling up interest in the bank, "We've yet to spend a penny." And will not until the first quarter of 1984 when the bulk of the Games' bills fall due. "We haven't even had to touch the principal," Ueberroth explains. "We're operating just on our income from interest. And with these current interest rates, our income is exceeding our expenses by a half-million dollars every three months."
What with the Five-Ring Gang slashing costs at every turn, the 50 file drawers jammed with detailed financial research, the strict no-credit, cash-as-you-go, non-refundable-deposit policies, the inflation clauses locked into each contract, the cost projections with double and triple reserves for unknown factors, the bonded guarantees from builders to avoid delays and overruns, and not one but two accounting firms keeping steely-eyed watch over all, well, as tight ships go, the LAOOC is fairly twanging. "We just don't plan to make any financial mistakes," says Ueberroth.
Terrific, but what about soul? That's a question that concerns, among others, Maureen A. Kindel, president of the Los Angeles Public Works Commission and, as head of an LAOOC committee that is planning the Games' cultural events, a "friendly critic." She says, "I worry about the soul of the Olympics, worry that the citizens of Los Angeles will really feel a great commitment to the Olympic Games and that they will enjoy the magic of them. I worry that all we hear about is the positive balance on our ledger sheet. Are we failing to make some humanistic decisions now because of the desire for a large profit just for profit's sake?"
You want soul? Ueberroth's got soul. And to prove it he provides a glossy four-by-six-inch printup of two of his favorite quotations embossed with the LAOOC's shooting-star logo, a kind of inspirational calling card he had done up for folks who might want to know where he's coming from. One quote is from a speech by Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the father of the modern Games, made shortly after the 1908 London Olympics, a relatively showy affair marred by some nationalistic infighting:
"The next Olympic Games must not have the same character. They must be kept more purely athletic, they must be more dignified, more discreet and more in accordance with the classic artistic requirements. The Games must be more intimate and, above all, the Games must be less expensive."
In response, Ueberroth utters a fairly glossy pronouncement of his own: "We will follow the Baron's suggestions, and the Olympic movement and the world will be better for it.
"Our goal is to make the Olympics a sporting event again, to do something right for the athletes. We're not trying to be bigger, better, grander. We're clearly trying to put on a Games that goes back to the early, easy principles of the Olympics, to celebrate sport."
But Ueberroth's soul reasons are not the only reasons for "doing the Games right." Consider the other quotation on his calling card:
"Some see private enterprise as a predatory target to be shot, others as a cow to be milked, but few are those who see it as a sturdy horse pulling the wagon."—Winston Churchill.
Peter Ueberroth: "The 1984 Games will be a privately managed event with no taxpayer money, no government funds, no donations, not one cent. In the past, they always awarded the Games to a city and city-oriented people ran it. This will be the first time ever that an Olympic Games will be managed by sports people and business people, and it will be copied in the future."
Ueberroth is putting in his share of 100-hour weeks to assure it. Of late, he prefers the more politic approach of shifting the focus from the business side to the sporting side whenever possible, which is where it belongs, he feels, despite suggestions that the maneuver is also a handy cover for predatory targets. More surprised than wounded by such potshots, Ueberroth now seems resigned to the fact that in the coming months "I'll be in line for a lot of criticism. Criticism will be healthy, but we'll be ready for it.
"Running the Olympic Games makes more people unhappy than any job I can think of. Almost any decision I make, like selecting one accounting firm over seven others, well, you just don't satisfy many people. I've got to be among the most hated men in the world."
Not so, if only because Ueberroth is barely known on the streets of Los Angeles, much less loathed in Bratislava. In a city that dotes on the celebrity cult, the man who is producing the biggest show in Tinseltown annals could pirouette into Ma Maison and fire up the crepes suzette with the Olympic torch and still not draw a second glance from a single agent or starlet. Instead, Ueberroth eats at his desk and goes home at night to his wife and children. Funky, but hardly the stuff of gossip columns. Mark him calm, soft-spoken and self-effacing. Low profile all the way.
Oh, Ueberroth can deliver a suitably rousing speech when the occasion calls. He is enough of a skilled diplomat to have gained the respect of the International Olympic Committee, which was none too happy about turning its Games over to a Yankee profiteer, winning reviews of "impeccably organized" from President Juan Antonio Samaranch of Spain and "outstanding" from Director Monique Berlioux of France.
Still, as one colleague says, "There are a lot of shields and minors there." Partly, that is because Ueberroth happens to be a very private man thrust into a very public job. And, partly, it is a new veil of caution he has thrown up to ward off unnecessary controversy and protect himself from a natural inclination to be frank. And part of it would seem to stem from a deepseated suspicion of the media, which Ueberroth denies he has. But, says one staffer, "They [the LAOOC higher-ups] are petrified of the press." It goes deeper than that. Another person familiar with the inner workings of the LAOOC, says that Ueberroth feels "the media should be controlled. Period. I mean the word 'controlled.' That word was used." As a result, whenever Ueberroth broaches any subject more sensitive than the weather, about the only hot fact on the record is that he's talking off the record.
"Once burned, twice cautious," says Amy Collis, assistant vice-president of the LAOOC news department, explaining that her boss must "constantly be aware of the Games' global image." That is, aware that a throwaway line dropped, say, at a dedication ceremony at Lake Casitas, site of the rowing and canoeing events, can make angry waves in Bulgarian kayak circles.
Ueberroth has also learned to say "G.D.R." instead of East Germany, "non-participation" when he means boycott and "our friends in the Soviet Union" when alluding to the Russian sports heavies who periodically knock "the millionaire Peter Ueberroth" and his capitalist Games.
All that diplomatic kowtowing matters not. Staging the Olympics is a game of substance, not style. And in that venue, Ueberroth has proved himself a world-class competitor. He's well known in the circles that count, clearly understood by the people who matter.
For example, John Martin, ABC vice-president in charge of sports programming, was twice impressed by what he saw and didn't see of Ueberroth during negotiations for the TV rights to the L.A. Games. The LAOOC president played a key role in hammering out a record $225 million contract with the network, Martin states. But when it came time for the traditional "class picture," in which the combatants lovingly lock arms like battered boxers after the final bell, Ueberroth had slipped away to give a speech to the Los Angeles County Deputy Sheriff's Department. "I thought it was ironic," says Martin, "that after we had put in all those hours negotiating and it was now time for a little glory, he was off doing other things."
"The nice little things that are being done quietly," in fact, are what Ueberroth seems proudest of. To wit: the recent dedication of a new velodrome and the LAOOC's new headquarters building, both ahead of schedule and under budget, and a strong equal-opportunity policy that is reflected in the makeup of LAOOC management, which is 41% minority personnel and women.
An inveterate list-maker, Ueberroth tends to, well, numericalize things when he speaks as well. For example, when asked why he took on so awesome a responsibility, he says, "One, because I believe that Los Angeles can put on the greatest Olympics ever. Two, because it will immensely benefit employment and boost the economy of Southern California. And three, because of the challenge of doing something right one time."
Likewise, by the numbers, herewith a sampler from Ueberroth's list of firsts:
1) The $225 million deal with ABC, the largest transaction ever made for a single TV event, will result in the largest amount of coverage ever committed to a single TV event—some 220 hours over 16 days.
2) The L.A. Games, with a record 14,000 athletes from 150 countries, says Ueberroth, will mark "the first time that everybody is coming since World War II. The People's Republic of China is sending a team for the first time in 50 years. Originally, they intended to bring 30 athletes. Now they plan to bring 300."
3) The 1984 Games will also introduce a record 15 new events, 11 of them for women. "All told," says Ueberroth, "45 percent of the athletes in the 1984 Games will be women as opposed to only 25 percent at the 1980 Games."
A full appreciation of the unique nature of Ueberroth's undertaking, or what LAOOC literature calls "another American Great Experiment," requires a bit of background. Way, way background.
Fifty summers ago, when Los Angeles was less than one-third its present size, the city hosted the 1932 Olympics. As if conjured by Cecil B. De Mille, the X Games rose out of the depths of the Depression to become a full-blown epic that set the pattern for the opulent, wildly expensive Olympics that were to come. Among other wonders, the 1932 Games boasted a magnificent Coliseum (built in 1921 for football and baseball and refurbished for the Games) and, for the first time ever, a picturesque Olympic Village.
The bigger, better, grander fever of the 1932 Games touched off a series of financially disastrous Games, culminating with the deficit that saddled Montreal's citizenry with a stiff 20-year surtax. Once deemed a high honor, acquisition of the Games fell into such disrepute that Los Angeles suddenly found itself the sole bidder for the 1984 Olympics.
A poll of Angelenos at the time showed that while 80% were in favor of hosting the Games if they could be held without spending any city money, that figure dropped to 34% if the Games might result in a deficit. Hence, the "businesslike Olympics." "We are invoking the spirit of Sparta," said California Governor Jerry Brown. "There will be zero government money spent. Zero."
The rank air of skepticism that hovered over L.A. Games II wasn't easily dissipated. Not even a 1978 city charter amendment, avowing that "the city shall not, directly or indirectly, appropriate or disburse any city funds for the purpose of promoting the 1984 Olympic Games," wholly appeased the 72% majority that voted for it.
Nor the International Olympic Committee. If the host city wasn't financially responsible for the Games, as decreed by IOC rules, who then was? The Southern California Committee for the Olympic Games, which had promoted L.A.'s bid for the Games, held out for the unprecedented concept that a private corporation could and should be solely responsible for the Games. In the end, after seven long, often rancorous months of negotiations, a compromise was struck, namely that the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) would assume joint responsibility with the SCCOG for the Games, and the IOC capitulated.
"The key to the whole Olympics," says SCCOG Chairman John Argue, "was to hire one good man."
Ueberroth, meanwhile, wasn't exactly nursing a cherry Coke at Schwab's drugstore, waiting to be discovered. Starting from ground zero, he had become the high-flying chairman of his own immensely successful company, First Travel Corp. of Van Nuys, Calif., a self-made boy wonder with a knack for squeezing high returns from a business with a notoriously low profit margin.
The son of a building-products salesman, Ueberroth was born in Chicago and had lived in five states and attended six elementary schools and two high schools by the time the family took root in Burlingame, a San Francisco bedroom community. Along the way, like some migrant Horatio Alger Jr., he had mowed the lawns, caddied at the golf courses and plied the paper routes of a stretch of suburban America extending from the leafy groves of Upper Darby, Pa. through the plains of Davenport, Iowa to the shores of Laguna Beach, Calif. While in high school, he ran the aquatics program at a YMCA summer camp in the Santa Cruz Mountains and for two years worked full-time as the recreation director at Twelve Acres, a home for children from broken families.
Looking back, Ueberroth feels that he had an invaluable opportunity "to learn how to adapt, to learn a little more about life a little earlier."
What gave it focus were the spirited debates his father moderated at the supper table each evening. The fare was strictly meat-and-potatoes stuff—economics, world affairs, current events. "Those were my father's interests and I inherited them from him," says Ueberroth. "He would constantly challenge the three of us, my older sister, my younger brother and me, and there was always an encyclopedia handy. My father never graduated from grammar school, but he was a brilliant individual, very well-read. A student of world trade who had street smarts."
Ueberroth's sports credentials are legit, as attested to by a nose that hooks left and right like a club fighter's. The appendage has been broken more times than he can count, the legacy of an average-size jock with an uncommon love for body contact.
A four-letter man for the Fremont (Calif.) High Indians, Ueberroth combined what skills he had in football, swimming, basketball and baseball to try out for—and win—a partial scholarship to San Jose State in a sport he had never played before, water polo. While captain of the Spartan (prophetically enough) freshman team, he came within an eggbeater kick or two of making the U.S. water polo team that competed in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. In his final two seasons at San Jose State, he led the league in scoring.
Dick Sargent, a college fraternity brother who is currently the LAOOC's chief of operations, offers this recollection of Ueberroth (which means, appropriately, "above red" in German) the undergraduate: "Always working." In addition to playing water polo and carrying a full load of courses, Ueberroth worked 30 to 40 hours a week at a variety of jobs that enabled him, he says proudly, to pay "every last dime of my schooling and expenses." He pumped gas, sold women's shoes and worked on a chicken ranch, snatching eggs from 20,000 irate hens, a pursuit not without its Olympic parallels. "You get pecked a lot," he says.
The job, though, that shaped Ueberroth's future was that of ramp agent for the non-scheduled airlines servicing Oakland Airport. Neither the aircraft, dumpy DC-25s, DC-35s and DC-45s, nor the names of the "non-skeds"—Blatz Airways, Portland Rose Airlines, Great Lakes Airlines—were terribly romantic, but for Ueberroth it was like commanding his own air force. "I did everything," he says. "Emptied honey buckets, took baggage out of the belly, worked the manifest, sold tickets, checked passengers in, woke the crews at the hotel. It was very exciting and interesting."
So much so that in 1959, after picking up his B.S. in business one day and getting married the next, Ueberroth and his bride, Ginny, flew to Honolulu so that he could take an office job with the Independent Airlines Association. Six months later, Kirk Kerkorian, the mega-buck financier who at one time was the single largest shareholder in Western Airlines and now controls Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, hired Ueberroth to run the Honolulu office of his non-sked venture, Los Angeles Air Service.
Within a year, Kerkorian summoned Ueberroth to L.A. and made him, at age 22, a vice-president and 3% shareholder of Los Angeles Air Service, a name which the new veep, already thinking big, convinced Kerkorian to change to Trans International Airlines.
When Kerkorian sold Trans International in 1962, Ueberroth cashed in his stock, leased a DC-6 and soloed for the first time with a round-trip package deal to the Seattle World's Fair. He abruptly nose-dived into debt, however, when hoteliers reneged on the rate commitments and raised their prices so high, he says, "It took me a year to pay off all my obligations."
Once burned, twice determined to tighten his "financial controls," in 1963 Ueberroth started Transportation Consultants International Inc. (TCI). No matter that the name was bigger than his one-room office in a grubby building in Hollywood. By 1967 TCI had built up enough headway for Ueberroth to sell shares to the public and raise $367,000. Shortly thereafter the boom in the leisure market struck and TCI stock took off like a space shot. In 1972 Ueberroth acquired Ask Mr. Foster Travel Service Inc., a venerable chain of travel agencies, for $676,000 and expanded its offices from 38 to more than 100 worldwide. A year later he founded Colony Hotels Inc., a resort-management firm that grew rapidly to encompass a dozen luxury playgrounds with 4,000 condominiums.
First Travel Corp., which Ueberroth formed in 1974 as the holding company for TCI, Ask Mr. Foster and Colony Hotels, prospered in good part, he believes, because of an incentive policy of giving employees shares of company stock, and hiring practices that were "beyond enlightenment." He says, "We hired housewives who wanted to return to the work force. We put a 72-year-old man in charge of a travel agency and he did great."
By 1978 First Travel, with 1,500 employees in 200 offices worldwide and gross revenues in excess of $200 million annually, had become the second-largest travel company in North America and was gaining ground on the leader, American Express. Ueberroth, a millionaire several times over before he was 40, just as he predicted he would be during his honey-bucket days, was enjoying the prerogatives of a $400,000-a-year chief executive, commuting to work in the summer from a place near Laguna Beach in his own Cessna 310.
What Ueberroth didn't foresee was the December morning in 1978 when SCCOG's headhunters, Korn-Ferry International, hot on the trail of the "one good man," made a surprise appearance at First Travel's offices.
Ueberroth recalls, "One day I came off the tennis courts and here were these people from Korn-Ferry in my office offering me the 'opportunity' of taking a 70 percent pay cut to run the Los Angeles Olympic Games."
Ueberroth laughed and then exhibited one of the qualities the search team was looking for—decisiveness. He said no.
"Peter is a forceful, driving person who doesn't tolerate indecision," says Howard Allen, president of Southern California Edison and a member of the SCCOG. "The fact that he had started his own company from scratch, and had prospered in a very tough business, added to his stature. We wanted someone to run the Games; we didn't want the Games to run us."
At the behest of Allen and other notable arm-twisters, Ueberroth began to rethink his decision. Matching himself against the profile of the ideal presidential candidate drawn up by the selection committee, he allowed, "Well, I was between the ages of 40 and 55. I did live in the Los Angeles area. I loved sports. I was chairman of a company with revenues of more than $100 million. I was fiscally conservative. I had international experience, had traveled widely and met with heads of state." Finally, Ueberroth concluded that perhaps the profile was "sort of like me."
Ginny Ueberroth begs to differ. "No, it wasn't like him," she says. "It was him."
Fate had obviously called. Ueberroth accepted the job and immediately purchased all the reports of the previous Olympic organizing committees dating back to the 1932 Games—28 volumes in all, each roughly the size of the L.A. phone book.
Ueberroth adjudged the expense side of all the reports "a disaster." But in them he also saw the "financial window" that would light the way to a debt-free Olympics. He says, "I found that if you took one item, one line off the cost of an Olympics—construction—they all would've made money."
Emerging from his studies in the spring of 1979, Ueberroth discovered that the LAOOC didn't have buck one in the bank. "In fact, it didn't have a bank account," he says, "and there was no office, no desk or a phone. Nothing. So I went to the bank, took $100 out of my pocket, opened an account and called it the LAOOC account." Then, after taking office space in the Alcoa Towers at Century City, he arrived at the doors of the LAOOC's new headquarters on his first official day on the job and his key didn't fit. The locks had been changed. Alas, before signing the final lease, the landlords had run a credit check on the dreamers who were going to try to fashion Olympic Games out of the thinnest of air and decided that this was one Great Experiment they wanted no part of.
By chance, Ueberroth met two insurance men on the elevator who were vacating their offices with 60 days still remaining on their lease. Sixty days, Ueberroth thought, enough time to get his show on the road and make other leasing arrangements. Was it possible?..."Sure, go ahead, move right in," said one of the insurance men. "We aren't going to be using the space."
Finally if inauspiciously in business, Ueberroth addressed himself to the first and most important matter of business: negotiating the sale of the TV rights. He figured the best way to find out how much money the TV people were willing to give was to find out how much they were going to get. So before consulting with the LAOOC's TV committee, he "went to the other side, the advertising industry, and got three friends to give me low, medium and high projections of what they thought the network's revenues would be for the Olympics."
After working out a composite estimate, which turned out to be uncannily close to ABC's current projection of $475 million in revenues from the sale of more than 3,000 minutes of commercial time at $250,000 for a 30-second prime-time spot, Ueberroth said, "It became evident that there was some margin in there that was probably available to us."
High as they were, the LAOOC's original hopes for its TV deal, based on the $25 million ABC anted up for the Montreal Games and the $87 million NBC agreed to pay for the Moscow Games before the boycott, were much lower than Ueberroth's. "Peter is the guy who raised our sights from $100 million to $225 million," says Argue, "and that was important to us."
So was ABC's agreement to provide, at a cost of $70 million to the network, a broadcast center and programming services that allow the LAOOC to sell foreign broadcast rights as well. All told, with European rights going for $19.2 million, Australian for $10.6 and others still being negotiated, the LAOOC's total broadcast revenues are expected to be $360 million, one-third of which goes to the IOC.
Holding to his credo—"We're not paying for the construction of anything"—Ueberroth planned to pass that privilege on to qualified sponsors. But first, the committee had to deal with the powerful federations that rule each sport and are accustomed to demanding—and getting—the most luxurious facilities for the Olympics.
To smooth the way, Ueberroth initiated another first: appointing commissioners for each sport to deal with the federations "on a one-to-one basis and make them feel really good about our preparations for the Games."
Asked why the pinchpenny LAOOC was paying the commissioners, mainly people of prominence and means, a token $5,000 salary, he explained, "So that we can fire them if necessary. You can't fire volunteers."
The big wheels of cycling will have their new world-class velodrome in 1984, but it's outdoors and cost only $4 million. The Southland Corp., owners of the 7-Eleven stores, has picked up the tab for the velodrome, already completed on the campus of California State University, Dominguez Hills. Likewise, McDonald's Corp. has put up $4 million for a new 11,000-seat swim stadium, also alfresco, that is abuilding on the USC campus, plus $5 million for the exclusive fast-food concession at the Games. And Atlantic Richfield Co. is spending $9 million to refurbish the Coliseum and build six new ARCO Olympic training tracks around the city. All the new facilities will be donated to the schools and/or the community after the Games.
Ueberroth's sponsorship program is as straightforward as one, two, three. "If a sponsor wants to take part in the Games," he says, "they have to: one, make a major financial commitment, two, adhere to our standard of commercial integrity, and three, prove they have a long-term commitment to youth and sports."
Though he is charging companies as much as 10 times the going rates at previous Olympics, Ueberroth claims, "We turn down four sponsors for every one we accept. It's a matter of quality. The Olympics is a special international event, not a honky-tonk carnival. It should be held with dignity and style, and that's what we're doing on the commercial side. We're not going to have an official doughnut. No official hair spray or gum-drops. I thought the sponsorship of Lake Placid was distasteful, but worse, the economics were bad."
Ueberroth's approach is right out of Marketing 101: "Limit sponsorship to the top corporations in a few select product categories. Keep it exclusive, make it like a private club to increase the value of being a sponsor/partner." Then lay on a minimum entrance fee of $4 million and push such club benefits as the exclusive use of the Games' official mascot, Sam the Eagle, a cutesy Disney creation, in advertising campaigns.
Among the 23 sponsors who have enrolled so far are Coca-Cola ($15 million), Anheuser-Busch ($11 million), Levi Strauss ($8 million),Converse ($5 million), Buick ($5 million), United Airlines ($4 million) and SPORTS ILLUSTRATED. (The publisher of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED has a sponsorship contract with the LAOOC that calls for payments to the LAOOC which could exceed $4 million and which provides that promotional considerations, including tickets, be given to SI's business staff before and during the Games. In conjunction with this agreement, SI will produce a special Olympic Preview issue, over which its editorial staff will have full and final control. SI's news coverage of the Games will be totally independent of this business contract.)
The Olympics is such a seller's market, in fact, that Ueberroth accomplished the slick feat of selling his "decommercialized Games" to his commercialized partners. "Our restrictions on our sponsors are more severe than even the IOC rules," he says. "There will be no signs of any kind in any stadium. We've even restricted the airspace overhead."
As for Ueberroth's pet project, the sponsorship of youth sports programs, he says it stems from an awareness that, for kids 13 and over, organized sports in America are geared to developing only "elitist athletes" at the expense of the vast majority of the nation's youth. Therefore, in addition to having sponsors contribute to a $1 million fund for purchasing tickets to the Games for underprivileged kids, Ueberroth is pushing the LAOOC Youth Activities Program. Converse, for example, with Magic Johnson as chairman, is sponsoring a series of halfcourt, three-on-three basketball tournaments in Los Angeles, New York and Washington, D.C. Also underway are the ARCO Jesse Owens Games, the Buick Olympic Youth Synchronized Swimming Championship, the Anheuser-Busch Olympic Youth Gymnastic Tournament, the Easton Olympic Archery Tournaments and the Coca-Cola Olympic Youth Soccer Tournament.
Other Ueberrothean measures: The tradition of granting the radio rights to the Games free of charge was abandoned, the LAOOC exacting $500,000 from the ABC Radio Network for the honor; the organizing committee won't foot the bill—as has been the practice—for the large congresses the various sports federations and the IOC hold in the host city immediately preceding the Games, thus saving approximately $17 million: and there will be no free limo service, either, for the legions of officials, real and self-appointed, who descend on the Games. Not to be inhospitable, LAOOC staffers have been using their own cars to pick up Olympic emissaries at the airport, which in one case meant that two Soviet dignitaries were introduced to the L.A. freeway system in a 13-year-old family sedan.
Ueberroth is not inherently cheap, claims Harry Usher, the general manager of the L.A. Games. "He just wants to make sure he's getting all the cluck for his buck." For the 200 salaried people on the LAOOC staff at present, as compared to the 2,000 workers Montreal had on the Olympic payroll at the same juncture, the feeling is contagious. "I think the biggest saving," Usher says, "is the creation of an atmosphere in which everyone who works here has a sense that they have to pack in a full day's work and we're going to stay lean and mean. Peter sets that tone and it just kind of ripples on down."
When he does leave his desk, it is for a 30-minute chauffeured drive from the LAOOC offices to his home in Encino. There, along with Ginny, their three daughters and a son plus three dogs, he raises oranges, grapefruits, tangerines, peaches, kumquats and wine grapes on three acres. With a pool, family paddleball and basketball games and, inevitably, roundtable debates at the supper hour, the Ueberroth lifestyle is "forward-moving all the time," says Ginny.
Ueberroth does his serious unwinding at their summer place near Laguna Beach that he was attracted to as a boy. "We bought a little place there on the beach several years ago and everyone laughed and said how dumb we were to buy it," he says. "It was a ratty, ramshackle thing, but Ginny redid it and now it's spectacular, just spectacular. It's also fantastic for skin diving. I'm pretty average, but we can get out there and catch corbina and halibut. Not with spear guns. Just with a sling—a spear with a piece of surgical tubing. It's really sporting."
The family fish fries are spelled by outings for tennis, skiing and golf, at which, Ueberroth says, "I've developed a high degree of mediocrity." Actually, he's accomplished enough on the golf course to have finished fifth with his partner, Gary Koch, in the 1980 Bing Crosby Pro-Am.
But into each idyll some strain must fall; when not fending off complaints about the LAOOC being too secretive and uncommunicative, Ueberroth is denying claims that he will use the Games as a springboard to high political office.
"I don't like the public thing," Ueberroth insists. "I think I'm good at running something, and a politician doesn't run anything." Not that he hasn't thought about life after the Games. Nine months after taking the LAOOC job, which pays him $115,000 a year plus expenses, he sold First Travel to Carlson Companies, Inc. of Minneapolis for $10.1 million, and he now wants to expand his horizons. "Most likely," he says, "I'll try to find a major corporation that's in trouble. That's the fun of doing something. The bigger the company and the more disastrous its position, the more it would interest me."
Right now, though, the future for Ueberroth is 1984. The present is "grind time," he says. "We must grind away on every detail. You don't get a second chance with the Olympics. You have to do it right the first time."
Right or wrong, for all the interest and enthusiasm shown by the citizenry to date, Ueberroth might just as well be staging a PTA dance recital. "It's true," he says. "The only following we have so far is among the young and the older people who were at the 1932 Games. It's really a bright thing in their memories." And among other similarities, he's certain that the XXIII Olympiad is merely passing through the same kind of lull that preceded the storm of affection for the X Olympiad a half-century ago. Perhaps as a reminder, he keeps a banner from those Games hanging in his office, with the Olympic motto prominent: Citius, Aldus, Fortius: faster, higher, stronger.
Then as now, Ueberroth explains, the times were hard. "Many people objected to holding the Games in Los Angeles and some even stoned the offices of the organizing committee. Many nations said they wouldn't come. People were saying they wouldn't buy tickets. And there was an attempt to give the Games back."
But then, six months before the Olympics opened—presto!—the attitude of the entire city changed. "The enthusiasm took hold," Ueberroth says. "The people cleaned up the city, planted wildflowers in vacant lots. In the midst of the Depression they queued up for tickets and the Games were sold out."
Ueberroth vows that history will repeat itself. Make no mistake, he says, "This city is going to celebrate the Games. They will become a rallying point of pride in this country." And perhaps provide a rallying cry for future Olympics: cheaper, simpler, truer!