I almost didn't bother to check it out. Too wild. Too improbable. Subaru the official car of the U.S. Ski Team?
But there was something about my caller's voice that made me believe him. After burning up the wires, I now believe him a whole lot.
Yes, Chevy, Ford and Plymouth drivers and all the ships at sea: a Japanese car is the "official" vehicle of our national skiers. And no one in Olympic Officialdom seems bothered about that at all.
"We've got critical financial budgetary needs," said Arthur Kuman, director of corporate fund-raising for all the 1984 U.S. Olympic teams. In raw numbers, Kuman's job is to raise $30 million from among corporations between 1980 and next year's games. He isn't there yet, so he's willing to accept help from any company willing to offer it, he says.
Buzz Welch, a spokesman for the U.S. Ski Team in Park City, Utah, said he has received "considerable" negative reaction about his team's relationship with Subaru. But Welch emphasizes that Subaru's parent company is American--based in Pennsauken, N.J., and traded on the American Stock Exchange.
Besides, says Welch, our Olympic skiers come out way ahead in the bargain. Subaru provides the skiers with dollars, cars and vans. All Subaru gets in return is the right to use the "Olympic rings" logo in its advertising.
Why not approach companies that are American through and through? "We do try to do that," Kuman said. For example, in 1980 he went to all the American car companies, but "for one reason or another, they didn't want to support the team."
"We want American companies first," Kuman said. "But let's face it: there are a lot of foreign companies that have done quite well." Of the 30 corporate sponsors of our 1984 teams, the number of foreign or largely foreign companies is "not that great," Kuman said. He declined to give exact figures.
Okay, officials. I see what you're up against. The money needs to be raised. It wouldn't serve any American's interests if our skiers don't ski or our pole vaulters don't vault.
But doesn't trouble lurk down this path? What if Subaru agrees to sponsor our 1988 sprinters, but only on the condition that they wear a Subaru ad on their shirts? Where I come from, that's blackmail--but it would be hard for our Olympic fund-raisers to say no if Subaru dangled enough dollars before them.
Granted, an American company could impose the same conditions. But none ever has, and I don't think any would now.
What assurance can I offer? Tradition and national pride. American companies understand that the Olympics are amateur sport. They aren't a commercial supermarket like the Super Bowl or the World Series. I'm not sure a foreign company looking for a foothold in the U.S. market would see the difference.