SBJ/June 8 - 14, 1998/No Topic Name

Masters Games score with sponsors — but not participants

The Nike World Masters Games have a lot going for them.

Blue-chip corporate sponsors such as Nike, Visa and Pepsi have ponied up $40 million in cash and in-kind contributions to fund the event, and well-regarded sports business executive Doug Single, former athletic director of Northwestern and SMU, has agreed to run it.

Now all the games need are athletes.

The deadline for athletes to sign up for the two-week event, which begins Aug. 9 in Portland, was extended indefinitely after the games came up short of their goal of 25,000 registered athletes by May 31.

"We're at 12,000 actual [athletes registered] and 22,000 committed," Single said. Masters athletes are waiting until the last minute to pay the $200 registration fee, he said, adding that he is still hopeful of meeting the 25,000 goal.

The Portland games will mark the first time the Australia-based international event — featuring elite athletes over the age of 30 competing in Olympic-style games — will be held in the United States, Single said. Australia, Denmark and Canada hosted the previous games, which have been held about every four years since 1985.

Beaverton, Ore.-based Nike, the title sponsor, which helped bring the games to Portland in the first place, is involved in the effort to sign up athletes, said Scott Reames, Nike communications manager. Nike has lined up Alberto Salazar, three-time winner of the New York Marathon and a longtime Nike employee, to go on sports talk shows, Reames said.

"We asked him if he could go in and talk up the games and provide a gentle reminder that people need to get their stuff in or they won't be able to participate," Reames said.

The greatest needs are for athletes in track and field and swimming, Single said.

"We are at about 2,800 in track and field, which is about 1,200 short of goal," he said. "Swimming is about 600 short of our goal of 1,800."

Several sports, such as bowling and cycling, are oversubscribed.

Despite the lower-than-expected registrations, Single said he expects the games to break even or make a small profit for the Portland Oregon Sports Authority.

Single added that he "fully expects" to pay off $2.25 million in loans from U.S. Bancorp, PacifiCorp and Nike, which were backed by registration fees. U.S. Bancorp extended the games a $1 million line of credit. Nike provided a $750,000 loan and PacifiCorp gave the games a $500,000 loan.

Doug Stamm, Nike director of global community affairs, said he thinks it's unlikely the games will meet the goal of 25,000 athletes. "But if we hit 15,000 to 20,000, it will still be a significant event," he said. "If we get close to those numbers, we think it will still have the largest economic impact on the state of Oregon of any sporting event."

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