SBJ/February 4 - 10, 2002/Special Report

Security effort is always Olympic event

Federal and local agencies providing Olympic security
include the FBI, ATF and Utah National Guard.

Despite the most intense security in Olympics history, hospitality events hosted by corporate sponsors are expected to be as widespread and highly visible as ever. "Sponsors always had a security plan with respect to on-site hospitality," said Mark Lewis, president/CEO of Olympic Properties of the United States (OPUS), a marketing partnership between the Games' organizing body and the U.S. Olympic Committee.

Even before devastating terrorist attacks against the United States in September, OPUS "hosted quarterly meetings with sponsors' security personnel," Lewis said. "We haven't seen anybody scale back."

A largely invisible but complex security net has been cast over northern Utah for the 2002 Winter Games, which begin Friday. The federal government is coordinating the $310 million operation, which will use the Secret Service, the FBI, the Utah National Guard, and state and local police to protect 2,400 athletes and hundreds of thousands of visitors.

The security force could total 11,000, and the cost, which could rise to $400 million, dwarfs the $23 million spent in Lake Placid, N.Y., in 1980, the last time the Winter Games were held in the United States.

The federal government added $55 million to the Olympic security budget after Sept. 11. Among the visible elements, F-16 fighter planes will patrol the skies around the region, where airspace will be closed off for a 48-mile radius from downtown Salt Lake City during key events.

Some companies scaled back their hospitality plans because of the economy well before Sept. 11. The biggest came when Home Depot canceled all of its Olympic hospitality plans last year. Recently, Office Depot released a block of rooms in the downtown Hilton, but many companies overbook as a precaution, so it is unclear whether Office Depot had cut back on its plans.

Indeed, if America is asking whether it's time to move on, the unfettered capitalism in the form of exclusive hospitality clubs, Olympic pin trading centers and interactive consumer pavilions that surrounds the Games might offer a resounding answer.

Worldwide Olympic partner Sports Illustrated/Time Inc. plans to keep alive a recent Games tradition of throwing a series of invitation-only parties attended by sports and entertainment executives, celebrities and avid people watchers.

Sports Illustrated's Olympic marketing director, Blaise Cashen, said four such parties are scheduled in downtown Salt Lake City on Feb. 10, 14, 18 and 23, at Club Splash, with live entertainment by a Los Angeles band, Grooveline.

The night spot accommodates 800 guests, about 700 fewer a night than the magazine invited to its parties during the larger-scale 2000 Summer Games in Sydney. Cashen said Sports Illustrated will entertain advertisers and other special guests in four waves of 200 people each. They will be based at the nearby Park City ski resort but will have exclusive access to a hospitality club inside downtown Salt Lake's Union Pacific Railroad Depot, a space the magazine is sharing with the International Olympic Committee.

The Sports Illustrated plan presents both logistical and security challenges, but Cashen said the vice president in charge of corporate security within parent company AOL Time Warner was hired from the ranks of the Secret Service.

"Our security is much more involved in talking to hotel security, or working with the Union Pacific Depot people, than it would have been in the past," Cashen said. "We've done background checks more than we would have done in the past."

Numerous other Olympic sponsors, not to mention national Olympic committees and their guests from around the world, are poised to roll out public attractions and private club operations during the Games.

Worldwide sponsors Coca-Cola, Eastman Kodak, Samsung and Visa are operating major facilities in downtown Salt Lake. U.S. Olympic team/Salt Lake 2002 partner-level sponsors AT&T, Budweiser and General Motors will be among the more visible corporate entities throughout the 17 days.

AT&T's Joe Ramondini credits the Salt Lake Organizing Committee and the federal and local agencies helping out with creating an atmosphere of confidence.

"They haven't done [security] planning in a vacuum," said Ramondini, director of AT&T's Olympic sponsorship, promotion and event marketing. "I believe Salt Lake is as prepared as any event can be prepared. We have customers coming from all over the country. There have been no major changes in our plans specific to security concerns."

Equally undeterred by the heightened security environment is Coca-Cola, which is spending about $100 million on advertising and on-site presence, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Coke plans visibility both downtown and along the quaint thoroughfares of Park City, where it will station two of its three public pin trading centers, which the company has been hosting since the late 1980s.

Coke is also occupying 20,000 square feet in a nine-block downtown area now known as Olympic Square, where it will station a fan experience center called "Coca-Cola on the Ice" that is free to the public.

Nearby, visitors will find the AT&T Broadband Lounge and, a few blocks away, at Gallivan Plaza, Anheuser-Busch is erecting a sprawling attraction called Bud World. In an office building next to the Salt Lake Ice Center, where Olympic figure skating is contested, Visa is opening its Reunion Center, an invitation-only hospitality environment where Olympians from generations past gather daily. Eastman Kodak, an Olympic sponsor for 106 years, will host a retail and interactive center called the Kodak Picture Planet Experience.

The logistics behind sponsor operations require attention not only to secure facilities but to the security of hundreds of staff and support personnel. McDonald's Corp. plans to staff food service locations in the Olympic Village and elsewhere with about 400 restaurant employees flown in from around the world.

All of these companies must engage self-contained security operations and absorb the costs. "If it's not an Olympic venue, they are responsible for their own security," said Tammy Palmer, a spokeswoman for the Utah Olympic Public Safety Command.

But, said OPUS chief Lewis, help will be at hand. "[Corporate] security personnel will know what radio frequencies our security people are using all the time," he said. "There is a lot of coordination and cooperation."

Most large-scale sponsor hospitality is outsourced to companies such as Larkspur, Calif.-based SportsMark, which is handling operations for 10 clients in Salt Lake, including official sponsors. SportsMark President Steve Skubic said any diminished presence in Salt Lake is "more due to the economy than any security-related issues."

Although SportsMark has always trained personnel to be security minded, Skubic said, the firm took an additional step for Salt Lake, using third-party agencies to run background checks on the 350 temporary hires it will enlist during the Games.

The communications network connecting Games officials, athletes, media and accredited sponsor guests via 1,000 PC-based kiosks is the subject of intense security provided by global Olympic sponsor SchlumbergerSema. "The Games network has no direct connection to the outside world," said the company's chief integrator, Bob Cottam. "No one can hack in directly."

No less vital to Salt Lake's effort to make the grade this month will be whether the security reality overcomes perception among delegations of athletes, coaches and officials of the 80 participating nations.

Athletes from numerous countries pulled out of pre-Olympics events and voiced concern about competing in the United States after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. In January, the Japanese Olympic Committee announced it would arm its athletes with gas masks in Utah, a policy it later rescinded.

"We are very comfortable with all of the measures being taken," said Philip Pope, a spokesman for the British Olympic Association, which is flying 90 athletes and others to the Games. "Many of our winter athletes are drawn from the armed forces, and therefore live with security issues. But whenever I speak to our athletes, they are not talking about security. The Olympic experience is paramount in their lives."

Steve Woodward is a writer in Chicago.

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