SBD/Issue 84/Olympics

New Brass, Recession Could Lead USOC Toward Government Funding

The USOC for years "trumpeted its financial independence" from the U.S. government, but the economic recession and new leadership have "brought a willingness to consider another vision: a government-supported USOC," according to Amy Shipley of the WASHINGTON POST. USOC Chair Larry Probst and other officials agree that the "organization's hazy economic future brings with it the responsibility of contemplating new sources of revenue, with possible government funding high on the list." However, the issue is "rife with complexity, philosophical and practical concerns and differing views." Some USOC officials worry about the "potential impact of such a dramatic step on the organization's autonomy, and some fear a backlash from loyal private donors who annually write $50 or $100 checks because they believe their small contributions will help a struggling young athlete make it to the Olympic Games." Some U.S. officials believe that the "biggest downside to government aid is the interference it might facilitate." Former U.S. Olympian Donna de Varona said, "Government money always comes with strings attached." There also is the "practical question of whether the USOC could secure the backing of Congress and the White House." Despite the concerns, U.S. Olympic officials believe that "finding new revenue streams over the next decade could be critical to continuing the nation's traditional Olympic medal success." Shipley notes about 27% of the USOC's budget for the quadrennial leading up to the '08 Beijing Games came from the $2B TV deal NBC signed with the IOC, which some officials "figure won't be surpassed when the next television contract" is awarded next year. In addition, the USOC has "lost a trio of sponsors -- Home Depot, General Motors and Bank of America -- since last summer." Probst said, "I still think there is ample opportunity to renew existing sponsorships and find new sponsors. We've also got to be looking for new revenue streams that didn't previously exist, and we've got to examine the possibility of government funding going forward" (WASHINGTON POST, 1/14).

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