PETER UEBERROTH, now baseball commissioner and a household word, left his Los Angeles travel business to organize the 1984 Summer Olympics, when most people couldn't pronounce "Ueberroth," let alone spell it. This article is excerpted from his forthcoming book Made in America by Peter Ueberroth with Richard Levin and Amy Quinn, copyright c1986 William Morrow & Co. Reprinted by permission of News America Syndicate.
TO PRODUCE AN OLYMPIC Games of the highest quality, we estimated, would cost between $450 million and $500 million. The chances of collecting that much money looked grim, considering that all previous organizing committees had failed to reap as much as $75 million from television broadcast rights, commercial sponsorships and ticket sales. I saw myself as Don Quibut it was the only way open to us, since support by tax money or lottery income was ruled out.
Joel Rubenstein, a former marketing expert for Mattel Toy Co., came up with a wonderful idea: limit sponsorships to 30 to avoid clutter and duplication, and select only major advertisers as spon- sors, one per category. If we could persuade sponsors to promote good will and public sport during the last year prior to the games, it would save us from using our capital for advertising.
I decided to set a $4 million floor for each potential sponsor. Establishing a minimum is a negotiating concept that has always worked for me. You can be as arbitrary as you like and at the same time you see who dares to walk across the line. Since Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola were first in line, it made sense to begin there. Our exclusivity program ensured that the winning bidder would be the only official soft drink at the games, the only one sold at Olympic stadiums, and the only one allowed to use the Olympic rings and other Olympic logos and themes.
Another of my business philosophies came into play: Always deal directly with the top executive. I didn't have much luck with the chairman of Coca- Cola. He wouldn't return my calls. I talked briefly with Don Kendall, Pepsi's chairman, whom I had met seven years earlier. He sent one of his key executives to conduct preliminary discussions. Even though the chairman of Coke was unavailable, the company sent John Cooper to pursue its interests. Coke enjoyed a 25-year history of Olympic participation. It had sponsored Olympic Games, and it also sponsored the Olympic teams of more than 30 countries. I liked Cooper immediately, but nothing I said registered until I mentioned Kendall. I found out later that it was the brief mention of Kendall's name that got the wheels spinning at Coke's headquarters in Atlanta. A few days later the president of Coke arrived. Don Keough is a very up-front guy, willing to take risks. Now that the two main players had joined me at the table, I gave them a week to submit bids.
Pepsi submitted its written proposal by mail and followed up with a telegram; Cooper and other Coke executives delivered their bid in person. The entire bidding process was a high-stakes poker game, and I didn't know what to expect. As the representative from Coca-Cola handed me Coke's offer, I steeled myself not to register any emotion. I quickly read my way through the legalese, anxious to get to the bottom line. Eight figures -- $12,600,000! All those zeros -- boy, did I love those zeros!
This was real money. We could build on it. The sum would shock the sporting world, but it confirmed my belief that we could achieve $200 million in sponsorships alone. More important, it was the first proof we could stage financially responsible games. Coke was it. The news of the Coca-Cola deal kicked off our television negotiations. David Wolper, a Hollywood film producer who served on the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee, and I factored into our negotiations a provision requiring the winning bidder to be host broadcaster and provide facilities for all visiting broadcasters from around the world. This included technical equipment, broadcast booths at each event, camera positions and an international broadcast center to work in. It would cost the winner an additional $75 million and would remove a massive management headache from the organizing committee. We decided to ask for more than $200 million television rights -- not including host broadcasting arrangements.
The TV negotiations took place in the screening room of Wolper's large, Mediterranean-style house, which is tucked away in the Bel Air hills north of UCLA.
Roone Arledge and Fred Pierce headed the negotiating team for ABC. The other bidders -- CBS, NBC and ESPN -- were also lusting after the rights, as was Tande's Jerry Perenchio.
We caucused often to discuss ABC's proposals to leave certain items open-ended; I wanted to nail down every fine point, leaving no room for later arguments. For example, ABC wanted to negotiate the host broadcasting at a later time. From our viewpoint, it had to be part of the total package, and we held firm.
a battle with the LAOOC board. I wanted a floor of $200 million for the TV rights, and I also wanted substantial money in advance. With large amounts of money coming in at once from the television and sponsor deals, the committee could operate through 1982 on interest income alone. But some of the so-called experts on the organizing committee weren't so farsighted. They said a $200 million floor was embarrassing. But Wolper and I prevailed. ABC agreed to pay $225 million and to serve as host broadcaster. This meant the deal was worth $300 million.
I HAD STARTED thinking about the torch relay as early as 1980. To make the games a success, the American people had to be proud that they were being held in their country, and a torch relay might spark that interest. The best way to go, I was convinced, was to fly the flame into New York from Greece and run it across the width of the country.
Some organizing committee staff members viewed that idea as a logistical nightmare. Priscilla
Florence, our director of personnel, worried about its effect on the games staffing. "It'll take hundreds of employes away at a time when we need every ounce of manpower available to get ready for the games," she said. Harry Usher, general manager of the games, had his eye on the bottom line as usual. He said, "It'll be too costly and won't be worth the effort from a public relations standpoint." "It's a security nightmare," Olympic security head Ed Best said. "What if some maniac douses a torchbearer with a bucket of gasoline? Or a lunatic starts firing from a hillside?"
No one raised issues I hadn't thought of. In fact, I could add a few more to the list: obstinate city officials holding us up for permits, local politicians grandstanding along the way, logistical breakdowns and total uninterest on the part of the Americanpeople. Nonetheless, I believed that with good planning we could eliminate the negatives and create a relay Americans would remember for the rest of their lives. I put it to a vote and was outvoted 7 to 1.
My instinct is to go with the majority, but in this case I knew deep in my gut the majority was wrong. The more I thought about it, the more I knew it was the right thing to do. A week later, I pulled the same group together. "Sorry," I said. "We're going to run the torch across the country." No one tried to talk me out of it -- they knew better.
Since this was a high-cost, high- risk project, our first priority was to line up another sponsor. AT&T immediately came to mind. It then had a depth, reach and nationwide network of affiliates unmatched by any other company. Jerry Foster, region vice president of Pacific Bell, the western affiliate of AT&T, was wild about the relay and convinced AT&T executives in New York to sponsor it.
But something was still missing -- a strong, emotional hook. Whenever I wanted to bat ideas around, I sought out the original idea man, David Wolper. This was no exception. We'd already spent many hours discussing ways to get people from all walks of life involved in the relay when, over breakfast one morning, Wolper suggested we use the relay to raise money for the organizing committee. By donating money to run, Wolper explained, people would be making a commitment to the games. That wasn't the hook I was looking for but it was close. I suggested it might work if the funds stayed in the communities. I refined that idea and opened the relay to all Americans who wanted to participate and donate $3,000 to a charity -- not to the LAOOC -- in their community. The large donation gave the plan meaning. Dan Cruz, who ran our Olympic youth programs, lined up the Boys and Girls Club of America and the family YMCAs as the original beneficiaries of the relay. Special Olympics was added later.
We announced our plans for the 1984 Olympic torch relay on July 28, 1983, one year before the start of the games. I went to New York City and shared the announcement honors with Mayor Ed Koch and the AT&T brass, while others made a parallel announcement in Los Angeles. We said the relay would start in New York on May 8, 1984, travel 12,000 miles and pass through all 50 states. Any individual, community organization, group of business making a commitment of $3,000 could designate a torchbearer to run a kilometer. We set a goal of 10,000 of these Youth Legacy Kilome- ters, which would net $30 million for America's youth.
The New York press conference was held at the Madison Square Boys Club. One reporter addressing Mayor Koch asked, "Mayor Koch, how are you going to allow this torch to go through New York? Who's going to pay for the security costs?" This was typical, I thought. Here we are, standing in a boys club trying to raise money for kids, and the press was already skeptical. "We won't charge them a dime," Koch said without missing a beat. "They are trying to help youth and help the city. We are proud to have the torch here."
I announced how the relay would start. "You probably don't know the name Gina Hemphill," I said, "but you might remember her grandfather. The torch-relay idea started in Berlin, Germany, during the time of Hitler. It was during those games that a little-known American athlete went to Berlin and made the best possible statement anyone could make against Hitler's racist policies. His name was Jesse Owens. He won four gold medals.
"Gina will share the first kilometer with a young man who is a Native American. His grandfather was once proclaimed the athlete of the half- century. He competed in the 1912 Stockholm Olympics where he won two gold medals. His name was Jim Thorpe, and we are proud to have his grandson Bill run alongside Gina." Hemphill and Thorpe came to the front of the room to meet the press. Reporters loved the idea and wrote great stories about it. Suddenly I was certain the program would sell itself.
THE TORCH RELAY was a hit from the beginning. In Boston, it drew a crowd of thousands at Fanueil Hall. In Philadelphia, a blind torchbearer followed in the footsteps of the movie character Rocky Balboa -- up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art as a band played the stirring music from the film. President Reagan greeted Olympian torchbearer Kurt Thomas on the south lawn of the White House on May 14. Thomas was America's best gymnast in 1980 and had been hurt as much as any athlete by the Carter boycott. He ran on behalf of all 1980 athletes.
I tried to keep in close touch with either Wally McGuire, the logistical genius behind the relay, or Jim Suennen, the trip director and McGuire's right-hand man. Occasionally McGuire, who was based in San Francisco, would report to me in person on the relay's prog
One of those occasions was June 11, when the torch, on its 34th day, was making its way through Missouri on its way to Oklahoma and Texas. From Washington, it had moved west through the Virginia countryside, over the Blue Ridge Mountains, through the industrial areas of western Pennsylvania, Ohio, and southern Michigan. It passed through Detroit and Chicago and then turned southeast, going through Indiana, the blue grass country of Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Georgia. From Atlanta, it headed west across Alabama, Mississippi, and Arkansas, and turned north again to Missouri, where it passed Gateway Arch in St. Louis.
"As the torch passes -- whether through big city streets or lonely roads -- people who gather chant, 'Go, USA! Go, USA!' It's really an uplifting experience," McGuire told me.
"What moved you the most?" I asked.
He thought for a long while. "There have been so many," he said. "But Atlanta stands out." And he told me about the proud strgle of a disabled child who had car- ried the torch along Peachtree Street in the middle of downtown. People were lined four and five deep on the sidewalks and were captivated by the determination of the boy moving slowly, concentrating on holding the torch aloft. Uniformed police were stationed about every 20 yards.
"He stumbled several times," McGuire continued, "and each time I could hear the crowd gasp. There was one huge bear of a policeman who was crying like a baby. As the child struggled past him, he wiped tears from his eyes and quietly said, 'C'mon, kid. You can do it.' It was as if the crowd knew its support would help the boy finish and when he did the crowd began cheering like there was no tomorrow. I cried, and I doubt if there was a dry eye in the city of Atlanta."
THE CHOICE of runner to carry the torch its final lap and to light the Olympic caldron was Rafer Johnson, a secret that was closely held to keep up the suspense. Rafer was the ideal choice. He was an Olympian and had won the decathlon silver medal at Melbourne in 1956 and the gold at Rome four years later. He represents what the Olympics are all about -- honesty, integrity, good sportsmanship and commitment.
I broke the news to Johnson in my office. David Wolper was there. "People have been speculating for months about the identity of the final torchbearer," I told Johnson. I detected a slight smile playing at the corners of Wolper's mouth.
"I'd like you to run it," I said to Johnson. He was stunned. "Thank you," was all he could say. Wolper didn't miss a beat. "It's a bitch," he said to Johnson. "We're talking a lot of stairs, Rafer. You've got to run a lap around the Coliseum track, climb the stairs leading up from the floor of the stadium, and then the real backbreaker -- 96 steps up from the hydraulic slip stair to the top where you'll face the crowd
and light the torch.
"We had a college football player try it, and he fell flat on his face, but I know you can do it."
DAVID WOLPER'S production of the opening ceremonies on July 28 was everything he had promised -- an emotional outpouring of friendship and the story of America set to music. It was the perfect way to welcome the greatest athletes in the world. It was Hollywood at its best: glamorous but not glitzy; patriotic but not corny. It approached its climax with the athletes' march, and when the team from the People's Republic of China entered the stadium, the audience erupted in cheers. The last team to enter was the United States -- and the crowd of 92,665 went wild. That was my cue. International Olympics Committee President Juan Antonio Samaranch and I walked onto the field to speak.
"Before you stands the finest group of young men and women ever to assemble in the history of sport," I said. "They represent the best that this world has to offer. They represent the best hope for the future of mankind. Athletes from 140 nations gather here today to honor their own countries and the Olympic movement . . . "
My mention of the torch relay brought spontaneous applause. "The success of this torch run has exceeded our fondest dreams. Millions and millions of our fellow Americans stood along the roadsides, cheering the runners and thereby becoming part of the Olympic movement . . . These millions and millions of people turned out along the way to express a friendship and a love and a caring for all nations of the world . . .
Samaranch noted the record number of nations participating in his remarks and thanked the volunteers. The crowd heartily applauded when he said, "Our thoughts also go to those athletes who have not been able to join us." It was a dignified way of recognizing those who had been hurt most by the Soviet boycott. President Reagan then declared the games open.
Ten U.S. Olympians and Bill Thorpe Jr. carried the Olympic flag into the Coliseum. The Olympians were Bruce Jenner, Sammy Lee, Pat McCormick, Billy Mills, John Naber, Parry O'Brien, Al Oerter, Mack Robinson, Richard Sandoval and Wyomia Tyus. This was new. In the past, the flag had been accompanied by a military escort. Four thousand homing pigeons were released as the band played the Olympic hymn and the flag was raised. Then out of the tunnel sprinted Gina Hemphill, holding the torch high. She was radiant. The music was triumphant. I held my breath and prayed that Rafer Johnson would make it. As Hemphill en stretch of her lap around the track, athletes crowded the lanes and slowed her progress. Johnson waited patiently. When she reached him and passed the torch, te crowd, recognizing him, raided the decibel level another notch.
Three days earlier, Johnson had told Wolper he was hurting. He'd overtrained and had shin splints. Wolper beseeched him to try the run one more time. The next day, Johnson did and made it all the way up the 96 steps -- for the first time. When he finished, he embraced Wolper and wept in his arms.
As Johnson started up the 50-degree incline, I counted each step. Not once did he falter. He was magnificent. He turned and faced the crowd when he reached the top. He raised the torch and ignited a fuse that propelled the flame through the Olympic rings to the caldron high atop the Coliseum.
As the caldron flared, aspiring singer Vicki McClure, a young supermarket checker, sang "Reach Out and Touch." Athletes and fans joined hands in celebration of the moment. Finally, it was time for the athletes to take center stage.