SBJ/September 30 - October 6, 2002/Marketingsponsorship

'Gladiator Games' concept re-emerging with new name, February date

The U.S. Olympic Committee is taking an old concept off the shelf and giving it new life in an effort to strengthen public awareness of prospective future American Olympic stars.

Leading proponent and USOC Chief Executive Lloyd Ward is counting on the organization's executive committee, meeting Saturday and Sunday, to approve plans to stage the new "Titan Games" in February in San Jose. The event, in development much of this year and formerly known as the Gladiator Games, is rooted in a two-day competition format showcasing athletes in the less-than-mainstream sports of amateur boxing, fencing, judo, karate, tae kwon do, weightlifting and wrestling.

Although USOC senior spokesman Mike Moran declined to confirm details, people with knowledge of the event's evolution indicate the USOC hopes to maximize exposure for the Titan Games by making a deal to share ad inventory with a cable network such as ESPN. The working dates for the event are Feb. 14-15.

San Jose Sports Authority board member David Cortese, in an August interview with Silicon Valley/San Jose Business Journal, said San Jose officials worked with the USOC over 18 months to develop a concept that will attract "the best athletes in their fields" to the 5,000-seat San Jose Events Center.

Whether it can also attract sponsors is not clear. Worldwide Olympics sponsor Visa, headquartered in San Francisco, is in discussions about a possible Titan Games sponsorship, said George Perry, director of event and sponsorship marketing.

It remains to be seen whether other existing or first-time sponsors will seek to underwrite part of the event, but one source said the Titan Games have been created to minimize reliance on sponsorship dollars, at least initially, and derive revenue from ticket sales. This approach is consistent with Ward's repeated public comments that the USOC should invest in "winning the hearts and minds" of an American public that does not routinely pay attention to Olympic sports.

Between 1978 and 1995, the USOC owned and operated U.S. Olympic Festivals, organized in years when no Olympic Games were contested. Eventually, they lost their appeal as a TV and advertising property. A downsized version of the festival, the Olympic Cup, was revived briefly in the late 1990s. In its heyday, the festival was a two-week, domestic mini-Olympics for which cities competed to be host. ESPN, starved for programming as a new cable venture, paid production costs and granted commercial units to local and national Olympic Festival sponsors.

BAY WATCH: The anticipated unveiling in late October of the Titan Games comes just ahead of the USOC's Nov. 2 vote (recently moved up one day from Nov. 3) to decide the candidate it will enter in the 2012 Summer Olympics race. The choice is between New York and San Francisco.

Bay Area Sports Organizing Committee spokesman Tony Winniker said San Jose's emergence as host of the new USOC event is "obviously a great boost for our [2012] bid," but he characterized the San Jose group's pursuit of the Titan Games as "separate from our bid."

Nonetheless, the Bay Area group's chief executive officer, Anne Cribbs, was quoted in a published report as saying her organization has agreed to be a sponsor of the Titan Games. Cribbs is former chairwoman of the San Jose Sports Authority and remains on its board.

New York 2012 Executive Director Jay Kriegel said his organization does not view the new USOC-Bay Area event alliance as having any connection to the decision facing the USOC's board on its 2012 choice.

"We have events, they have events," Kriegel said. "Anything that strengthens the [Olympic] movement is terrific for everybody. But I think it would be a mistake to confuse the two."

FOX IN THE HUNT: Representatives of ABC, CBS, NBC and Turner presented their forecasts last week for converging television and new media technology during broadcasts of the 2010 Olympic Winter Games. It was the first of many dances in Lausanne, Switzerland, with the International Olympic Committee's TV and Internet Rights Commission, which has yet to decide when it will put the 2010 rights on the table for bidding. NBC holds summer and winter rights through 2008.

Fox did not send anyone to Lausanne, but Fox Sports spokesman Lou D'Ermilio said network chairman David Hill has made personal contact with IOC officials by telephone. D'Ermilio said Fox is interested in the 2010 Games. "We have a dialogue open," he said.

RING TOSSES: Former NCAA and USOC executive director Dick Schultz is assembling a consulting team to work with the Beijing mayor's office on development projects leading to the 2008 Summer Games in China. ... Berne, Switzerland, is expected to drop out of the 2010 Winter Olympics race after voters rejected a referendum to allocate government funds for Games preparation and a new stadium. Pyeongchang, South Korea; Salzburg, Austria; and Vancouver, British Columbia, will be the three finalists.

Steve Woodward can be reached at swoodward@sportsbusinessjournal.com.

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