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The Nagano Games open Friday and the media has begun to arrive in Japan. The "most intriguing aspect of the Nagano Games may be a generational shift, represented by the prominence of under-30 athletes who come from non- traditional, even nonwinter, sports such as skateboarding and inline skating, and who carry nontraditional attitudes into the Winter Games," according to Jere Longman of the N.Y. TIMES. In some aspects, the Games "will more closely resemble ESPN's X Games or the Grunge Games than a traditional Winter Olympics" (N.Y. TIMES, 2/1). CENTER ICE: In Philadelphia, Frank Fitzpatrick wrote the "centerpiece of these Games could well be the men's hockey tournament" (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 2/1). In N.J., Mark Czerwinski wrote that unlike the NBA Dream Teamers, "When NHL players take the ice in Nagano, Japan, they won't be trying to sell sneakers or jerseys or french fries. They're selling hockey, and the world is their target audience" (Bergen RECORD, 2/1). In L.A., Helene Elliott wrote "don't confuse" the NHL Olympic program "with the NBA's Dream Team debacles" (L.A. TIMES, 1/31). BUSINESS WEEK's Madigan & Hyman examine the potential boost from the Games. CBS will profile NHL players in prime time, exposure which "could give a financial lift to rink stars who perennially trail other pro athletes in the endorsement category." Agent Tom Reich: "The opportunities are going to be aggressively explored once the competition is over." A "mild success" could give the league a boost as it sets to renegotiate its TV deal. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said that the league is happy with its relationship with Fox and ESPN, "but he wouldn't mind if ABC or CBS 'showed interest' at entering the TV talks" (BUSINESS WEEK, 2/9 issue). SHREDDING EVIDENCE: Snowboarding's debut continues to receive considerable media attention. Rick Gentile, CBS Sports' Exec Producer of the Games: "We think snowboarding is going to be popular this year. ... We're going to have some young people out there who are snowboarders, who are in that world, who speak that language" (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 2/1). NEWSWEEK's Debra Rosenberg writes that CBS plans to highlight snowboarding events. But snowboarding "devotees fear that the sport could lose its soul in an Olympic avalanche of commercialism and red tape" (NEWSWEEK, 2/9). OUT OF THE PACK: In N.Y., Wayne Coffey offered his four U.S. "budding stars to watch" in Nagano: Women's ice hockey assistant captain Karyn Bye; Slalom skier Kristina Koznick; Luge teammates Mark Grimmette and Brian Martin and speedskater Casey FitzRandolph (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 2/1). NEWSWEEK's Mark Starr writes that while new sports "may provide much of the excitement" -- men and women's ice hockey and snowboarding -- Michelle Kwan "appears destined for the Games' greatest glory" (NEWSWEEK, 2/9 issue).
In a "marked contrast to the garish commercial scene" in Atlanta, in Nagano, "other than the colorful assortment of Olympic flags dangling from light poles, there are virtually no advertisements on display," according to Shipley & Sullivan of the WASHINGTON POST. Japan "intends to display its unique traditions and culture in a tasteful setting" during the Games (WASHINGTON POST, 2/1). IS NAGANO READY? In an interview with NEWSWEEK, NAOC Dir General Makoto Kobayashi said, "I have no concerns. We are ready." Kobayashi, asked if he would ever take the Dir General job again: "No, no, never. I would turn it down" (NEWSWEEK, 2/9 issue). IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch called the Nagano Main Press Center "one of the best I've ever seen in my life" (KYODO NEWS, 1/29). In Toronto, William Houston, on the media's set-up: "Broadcasters are raving about the facilities. ... Networks' needs and request were met. Everything works" (GLOBE & MAIL, 1/31). In Montreal, Jack Todd: "A week before the start of the Nagano Games, things are already running better then they did in Atlanta at the time of the closing ceremonies. The phones work. The computers work" (Montreal GAZETTE, 1/31). NOTES: Traffic in Nagano remains a concern for organizers (KYODO NEWS, 2/2)....The IOC reports that sponsorship for the Nagano Games totals $212M, or 27% of the overall $780M revenue (AP/PHILA. INQUIRER, 1/31). SPONSOR SUPPORT: BUSINESS WEEK features a "Special Report" on the Olympic Games and Neff, Echikson et. al. write that "most corporate sponsors profess great satisfaction with their Olympic connection." TOP sponsor John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance was soured over the commercialism in Atlanta, but President David D'Alessandro said, "Both the Japanese and the Australians have gone out of their way to learn the lessons of Atlanta." BUSINESS WEEK adds, "Despite the risks, the number of sponsors-in- waiting and communities eager to play host is growing" (BUSINESS WEEK, 2/9)....The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Raju Narisetti profiles IBM's Nagano program, as the company will end up spending about $100M for the 17-day event and looks to bounce back from the "black eye" it suffered in Atlanta. Ogilvy & Mather will create 10 TV spots that tie IBM's role to athletes in the games (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 2/2). WILL PEACOCK LIE LOW? CNBC's Jerry Cobb: "Some say NBC is trying especially hard not to compete for the Olympic audience in order to help CBS score high ratings. Those numbers could be of big help for NBC when it sells ad time for its broadcast of the Winter Games in 2002." TV Guide's Max Robins: "I don't think there's some kind of grassy knoll conspiracy going on here, that they're just going to roll over and play dead so that they can do well with the Winter Games next time around" ("The Edge," CNBC, 1/30). POINT, CLICK AND SCORE? AD AGE examines Web tie-ins to the Nagano Games. CBS SportsLine is spearheading "one of the largest online efforts," and among sponsors of its Olympic coverage are A-B, AT&T, Bugle Boy Industries, Ford Motor, IBM, Shell Oil, Visa USA, Xerox and Sony. SportsLine would not reveal the cost of its sponsorship, but "it's believed that they're in line with the price of its ad banners, which sell for $35 per thousand impressions." While not spending on Web advertising during the Games, Nike will focus its Olympic coverage on Nikebiz.com site where it will offer athlete information (AD AGE, 2/3 issue).
The USOC and TWI formally announced that they have joined in a TV and marketing venture designed to create new events and programming centered around the Olympic movement in the U.S. The first project will be a 26-part series called "U.S. Olympic Gold," which will target NBC affils by feeding the half-hour shows bi-weekly to accommodate the stations' weekend sports schedules. The magazine-style show will profile American athletes training for the games and includes news and info on Olympic preparations. U.S. Olympic Gold is available to stations on a barter split for airing beginning in the '98 third quarter (USOC).