In anInternational Olympic Committee bidding contest last week at the Palace Hotelin Lausanne, Switzerland, ABC agreed to pay $309 million for U.S. rights totelevise the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary, Alberta. The losers, if that's theright word for anyone saving that kind of money, were NBC and CBS, which bid$304 million and $260 million, respectively. Thus, the dramatic escalation ofTV rights fees for the Olympics continues. So does ABC's monopoly of thoserights for recent Winter Games. Four years ago ABC paid $15.5 million for theLake Placid Olympics. This year the network is spending $91.5 million for theSarajevo Games, which begin next week—not to mention $225 million more for theSummer Olympics in Los Angeles.
Taking intoaccount the fact that the Winter Games are far less popular in the U.S. thanthe Summer Olympics, how does ABC justify shelling out 37% more for the '88Winter Games than it's paying for L.A. and more than three times what Sarajevois costing? After all, should American athletes perform abysmally at Calgary,the ratings could tumble, and ABC could sorely regret its lavish outlay.Barring such a development, however, last week's winning bid makes considerableeconomic sense. For one thing, Calgary is in the Mountain Time Zone, so most ofthe coverage ABC will provide in '88 will be live. Experience has shown thatlive coverage produces significantly higher ratings and more advertisingrevenue than tape-delayed telecasts of the sort that, for the most part, willbe beamed from Sarajevo, which is six hours ahead of New York. "Theopportunity to go live pretty much ensures you're going to get goodnumbers," says Barry Frank, senior corporate vice-president of Trans WorldInternational, who served, in effect, as the Calgary organizers' agent in therights sale.
It also doesn'thurt that the Calgary Olympics have been "designed" for television.They originally had been scheduled for the last week of February and first weekof March but at Frank's urging were moved up to run entirely in February, oneof three "sweeps" months in the TV industry. Ratings during sweepsperiods are used as the basis for ad rates for the ensuing four months. Also,the Calgary Olympics will be spread over three weekends instead of two, givingABC 80-odd hours of coverage to sell to advertisers, compared with 63½ hoursfrom Sarajevo. All this, of course, is in addition to an expected continuedincrease in ad rates.
ABC can takecomfort in the fact that networks that covered past Olympics usually have endedup profiting even though the sums they bid almost always seemed chilling at thetime. The same thing has happened with the even costlier rights for SummerOlympics. Accordingly, Frank, a former executive at both ABC Sports and CBSSports who reportedly has also been engaged to peddle TV contracts for the 1988Summer Games in Seoul, predicts that the U.S. rights for that event will fetch$750 million. Or do we hear a billion?
Houston center Akeem Abdul Olajuwon is the nation's leading major collegerebounder this season with, as of last weekend, a 14.9-per-game average. Well,isn't that what you'd expect of a gifted 7-footer like Olajuwon? Notnecessarily. Bill Spivey, Wilt Chamberlain, Lew Alcindor, Mel Counts, TomBurleson, Tree Rollins and Ralph Sampson all stood 7 feet or more, but none wasever No. 1 in rebounds in college. Last season's rebounding champ, XavierMcDaniel of Wichita State, was 6'7", the same height as the 1981 leader,Darryl Watson of Mississippi Valley. The current runner-up to Olajuwon, CareyScurry of Long Island University, is 6'9". Indeed, if Olajuwon finishes theseason as the leading rebounder, he'll join Jacksonville's Artis Gilmore, whowas tops in 1969-70 and 1970-71, as the only 7-footers ever to lead in thatdepartment.
GETTING IN THELAST WHISTLE
When it comes toputting down hecklers, nightclub comedians have nothing on basketball referees.The classic—and perhaps apocryphal—squelch story is the one about the officialwho was taking a lot of guff about his calls from a coach. Passing hisdetractor's bench, the ref casually called out, "Oh, you're just madbecause my team's winning." That one's hard to top, but NBA refs Earl Stromand Jake O'Donnell recently silenced hecklers with lines almost as good.
First Strom: Acouple of Seattle SuperSonics were giving him a hard time about what theythought was a succession of blown calls. Having heard enough, Strom told them,"You start playing 100 percent, and I'll start refereeing 100percent."
O'Donnell's crackalso occurred during a SuperSonics game. After Seattle's Danny Vranes blocked ashot by the Dallas Mavericks' Mark Aguirre, O'Donnell called a technical onAguirre for protesting too vociferously that a foul should have been called. Amoment later Vranes again appeared to block Aguirre's shot, but this timeO'Donnell called Vranes for a foul.
"Jake, that'sa makeup call," said Vranes.
O'Donnellsignaled a "T" against Vranes and said, "No, this is a makeupcall."
BUD BOWS OUT
Minnesota Vikingcoach Bud Grant retired last week after 17 years on the job, four losing SuperBowl appearances and a 161-99-5 record. SI senior writer Paul Zimmerman reportsfrom Honolulu, scene of the Pro Bowl, where Grant broke the news:
Somehow it justdidn't seem right, Bud Grant announcing his retirement in a place called theBeach Club Room, overlooking the sands of Waikiki. He should have done it in aduck blind in northern Minnesota as the beat writers tried to take notes withsleet-frozen fingers. But in recent years the Vikings haven't seemed quiteright, either. In earlier years under Grant, Minnesota was known for its toughdefense, reckless special teams and a solid nucleus of veterans who would outdothemselves when the weather turned cold in November and December. Grant wasbeloved by those old guys because he brought them into camp late, worked themsparingly and tried to save their legs for the big push at the end. But of lateMinnesota has been known as San Diego East. The new Vikes lived by the pass,were merely adequate on defense and appeared to have lost the knack of winningas the season wore on. What went wrong?
"My playersjust aren't good enough," Grant said. "Look around at this Pro Bowlsquad. Do you see a single Viking here? We don't have one."
Grant said he wasleaving football to devote himself to "some of the things I can do now at56 that maybe I won't be able to do at 65.1 can still walk the woods, wade atrout stream, climb a mountain. I can still go out in those breakers. I want todo it while I have my vigor."
Maybe that wasthe main reason he was giving up coaching, but another could have been thechanging nature of the game—the tougher competition, the agents, the fact thatto stay in the hunt a team must spend big dollars. The Vikings' bosses aren'tbig spenders. Often they draft only those people they're sure they can sign.Perhaps Grant saw it all as a dead end, although he insisted, "That's gotnothing to do with my decision. And I wasn't worried about the money aspects.[The players] are better now, and they're paid more. It's a naturalthing."
The Vikingsrushed to hire one of Grant's assistants, receiver coach Les Steckel, toreplace him. Historically, elevating assistants has been a mistake. Four oflast year's rookie NFL coaches had been assistants for their teams. None had awinning record in his new job: Kay Stephenson of Buffalo (8-8), Joe Walton ofthe Jets (7-9), Marion Campbell of Philadelphia (5-11) and Bill Parcells of theGiants (3-12-1). In the last six years, 11 assistants have been promoted tohead coach by their clubs; only two had winning records overall—Tom Flores ofthe Raiders and Ray Malavasi of the 1978-82 Rams, and Malavasi was firedanyway. An assistant gets close to his players; that's his role. When hebecomes the head coach, that necessary little element of fear is missing.
And maybe in 17years Bud Grant had lost that knack of inspiring fear as well.
HUE AND CRY
Now that the U.S.team's clothing needs for the Winter Olympics have been attended to (see page13), what about the togs for the Summer Games? Well, it seems there's a slightsnag with the uniforms that American track and field athletes will be wearingwhile performing in Los Angeles. Developed by Kappa Sport Inc., a U.S.subsidiary of an Italian firm, the shorts and singlets are made ofmulti-layered metallized fabric designed to keep the competitors from gettingtoo hot and sweaty under the L.A. sun. Trouble is, the properties of the fabricthat reflect the sun's rays are ruined by dyes, making it impossible for theuniforms to be colored anything other than gray, a less appropriate hue for anAmerican team, it's agreed, than red, white, blue or some combinationthereof.
Mindful of thatshortcoming, Kappa has designers hard at work trying to devise a way of coatingthe uniforms so that they can be dyed. Meanwhile, some U.S. coaches who've hadan advance look at the uniforms object to their grayness. "As they've toldus, this is the year of Jesse Jackson and of Martin Luther King's birthdaycelebration," says Corrado Ricciardi, executive vice-president of KappaSport. "And they don't want the athletes to wear the color of theConfederate uniform."
Over the space of four days last week, 200 members of the U.S. delegation tothe Winter Olympics—coaches and trainers, as well as athletes—trooped throughthe Marriott Hotel in Uniondale, N.Y. to pick up their sheepskin jackets,velour warm-ups, red U.S.A. parkas, tweed blazers, cowboy hats and, not least,polypropylene long Johns, in preparation for departing for Sarajevo. As in1980, the U.S. team was outfitted by Levi Strauss & Company, and eachathlete and staffer received 32 items—including three pieces of luggage to puteverything else in—with a total value of more than $1,000. Since it's rumoredthat Soviet Olympians had to turn back the handsome fur coats they wore in the1980 opening parade in Lake Placid, the Americans may already feel likewinners: They get to keep the whole shebang.
THEY SAID IT
•Lee Stern, owner of the Chicago Sting, on the factthat NASL attendance is declining as participation in youth soccer continues togrow: "If 12-year-olds could drive, we wouldn't have any problems."
•The Rev. Roger T. Scott, rector of the EpiscopalChurch of the Good Shepherd in Lexington, Ky., addressing a half-filled churchon Super Sunday: "You don't know what tough is until you've faced coldweather, Kentucky basketball and the Super Bowl in one day."
•Manfred Ewald, president of the East German OlympicCommittee, asked by an Italian journalist when his country, which confines itsOlympic skiing participation to Nordic events, would compete in Alpine events:"As soon as you surrender some of your mountains to us."
•Brian McIntyre, NBA publicist, replying to former NBAcenter Johnny Kerr's request to compete in last weekend's slam dunk contest:"Yes, but you have to provide your own trampoline."