SBJ/November 4 - 10, 2002/Marketingsponsorship

Watchmaker Swatch decides time is right for return as USOC sponsor

Swatch is making a comeback as a U.S. Olympic team sponsor and supplier under an agreement that extends through 2008. The deal, announced late last week, marks the return of the Swiss timepiece maker to the U.S. Olympic marketing landscape. Swatch was a sponsor from 1992 to 1996.

Terms were not disclosed, but industry insiders place the price of ownership of a four-year U.S. Olympic Committee sponsorship category at between $20 million and $30 million.

The Swatch deal is the USOC's first since the arrival of marketing specialist Lloyd Ward as CEO one year ago. It provides the organization both a new partner for the countdown to the 2004 Athens Summer Games and a head start on securing revenue for the critical 2005-2008 period. That is the first quadrennium since the late 1980s in which the USOC will solicit sponsor revenue minus a pending U.S.-hosted summer or winter Games.

Although Swatch was tied to the USA's 2000 Olympic team in Sydney strictly as a product licensee, the new contract carries multiple provisions that position the company as the exclusive supplier of watches and equipment that "have the primary function of measuring time," according to a USOC statement. Swatch also will be sole distributor of U.S. team watch collections for the 2004 and '08 Summer Games and for the 2006 Winter Games.

The partnership with Swatch does not represent an added sponsor category. The USOC is replacing Seiko, which did not renew. Swatch's alliance also positions it as official sponsor of U.S. teams for the Pan American Games next year and in 2007.

  STILL TALKING: Sports property holding company Anschutz Entertainment Group is in talks with the USOC, SportsBusiness Journal has learned.

An AEG facility due to open next year in Carson, Calif., the Home Depot National Training Center, has captured the USOC's attention as it explores improved training and broader visibility for Olympic prospects.

The 125-acre facility, under construction south of Los Angeles, features soccer and tennis stadiums and a track that will conform to NCAA and Olympic standards. Two USOC member federations, the U.S. Soccer Federation and USA Track and Field, plan to designate the Carson complex as their official training sites.

The sticking point in the USOC's negotiations with AEG revolves around sponsorship. While the USOC sees advantages to designating the complex as a U.S. Olympic training center, officials do not want to affix the coveted five rings on its structures only to see site owner AEG sign sponsors that are competitors of existing USOC sponsors.

"That is the most delicate part of it," said USOC President Marty Mankamyer, who confirms that senior USOC staff members have toured the site extensively and are encouraged by its potential as an event venue.

"Our proposal is on the table," said AEG President and CEO Timothy Leiweke after appearing on a panel at last week's Travel, Events and Management in Sports conference in Chicago. "Now it's up to [the USOC]. We have some issues to resolve. We are not trying to ambush them. Quite frankly, we don't need the [Olympic] logo. We're doing quite well without it."

In remarks during a panel discussion, Leiweke added: "If you look at our Olympic movement, and the training of our amateur athletes in this country, we are a joke."

In addition to Home Depot, Anheuser-Busch Cos. is on board as a sponsor of the center. Interestingly, both are Olympic team sponsors. Leiweke conceded that plans to build a covered cycling velodrome hinge partly on whether a USOC partnership is sealed. He said cycling's international federation has given AEG until Nov. 30 to bid on the 2005 World Championships, so an end to negotiations with the USOC is looming.

  MONEY TRAIL: In a speech at the Travel, Events and Management in Sports conference in Chicago, the USOC's Mankamyer said renewing sponsors and signing additional partners is "one of our biggest priorities and challenges." As such, the words of Peter McLoughlin, Anheuser-Busch vice president of corporate media, will be well received by Mankamyer and fellow USOC officials.

McLoughlin said he sees more advertisers "investment spending" on sports in what he describes as "a pretty good marketplace." McLoughlin told SportsBusiness Journal that he expects Anheuser-Busch to sustain its Olympic ties. He wouldn't comment on growing speculation that the St. Louis brewer might become a global Olympic sponsor after 2004.

  RING TOSSES: A presenting sponsor for the USOC's 2003 Titan Games event in San Jose is signed, and an announcement is expected next week. ... A clearer sense of how far behind Athens is for 2004 might emerge this week. The International Olympic Committee's coordination panel tours Wednesday through Friday on the heels of a directive from Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis, who has publicly warned that "drastic measures" loom if the pace of construction projects does not accelerate. ... Mitt Romney apparently will not allow Tuesday's election results to dictate his schedule on Feb. 8, 2003. The former head of Salt Lake's Olympic organizing committee and current Republican candidate for governor of Massachusetts has agreed to co-host a Utah gala marking the one-year anniversary of the opening of the 2002 Winter Games. NBC Sports Chairman Dick Ebersol is expected to join him.

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

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