• Tokyo best option for 2020 Games

    The competition to host the 2020 Olympics wasn’t a beauty contest. It was a contest to see what city concealed its blemishes best. And Tokyo won that battle with ease.

    After all, what’s a minor nuclear leak compared to an economy that is in tatters or a violent crackdown on protesters?

    “The other two were just too risky,” International Olympic Committee member Denis Oswald said of Istanbul and Madrid after the Sept. 7 vote.

    Risk was what the IOC wanted to avoid this time. It’s dealing with enough of that these days. Its gamble on Sochi has been repaid by overspending — to the tune of $50 billion — and international condemnation of Russia’s anti-gay legislation. Its bet on Rio and the promise of South America is being overshadowed by concerns about construction delays. And Pyeongchang has the shadow of North Korea and its missile tests looming over it.

    That’s why Tokyo fell just six votes short of winning the election outright in the first round, and it’s why the city won with a clear 60-36 majority in the second round. Compared with its peers, Tokyo offered the best option for the Olympic brand, right now. It’s a dependable city that has hosted the Games before; it has a strong infrastructure in place and $4.5 billion in the bank to build 10 new venues; and it has the world’s third-largest GDP.

    Tokyo was exactly what the IOC wanted: Safe, dependable, financially sound and, relatively speaking, risk free.

    Tags: Olympics, IOC
  • Notes from the 125th IOC Session

    Probst named to IOC

    U.S. Olympic Committee Chairman Larry Probst became the fourth U.S. representative to the IOC last week, following a 71-20 vote by IOC members.

    The election came four years after Probst attended his first IOC session in Copenhagen, Denmark, and watched the IOC eliminate Chicago in the first round of the campaign to host the 2016 Olympics. He subsequently hired a new CEO in Scott Blackmun, and the two of them worked hard over the last four years to improve the organization’s relationship with IOC members.

    “Obviously, there were some issues that needed to be addressed and problems solved,” Probst said. “The entire team, Scott and his team, myself and our IOC members, have worked hard the last four years to move things in a positive direction, and this is symbolic of making some significant progress.”

    Probst joins Anita DeFrantz, Jim Easton and Angela Ruggiero as U.S. members of the IOC.

    DeFrantz wins board seat

    Anita DeFrantz beat out Canadian Dick Pound and Malaysian Prince Tunku Imran for the only vacant seat on the IOC Executive Board. The former Olympic rower previously served on the executive board from 1992 to 2001.

    “Having Anita on the executive board is a big deal and it’s good news for the USOC and the United States,” Probst said.

    Wrestling retains its hold

    Seven months after being dropped from the Olympic program, wrestling persuaded the IOC to give it a second chance. The sport received 49 votes from IOC members, giving it a first-round majority over competitors baseball and softball (24 votes) and squash (22), which also were vying for one final spot in the 2020 Olympics.

    Wrestling was the clear favorite coming into the vote, but its federation had to answer more than a half-dozen questions from IOC members about everything from alleged corruption to gender equality.

    “Wrestling has changed,” said FILA President Nenad Lalovic. “Wrestling has become a modernized sport ready to compete with other sports. We persuaded the IOC members [that] our improved sport will support the Olympic movement.”

    Tags: IOC, Olympics
  • Reservations about hotel situation in Sochi

    It’s 10 months before the Sochi Games, and USA Hockey Executive Director Dave Ogrean is worried. His organization still hasn’t secured hotel rooms for the 2014 Winter Olympics — and his national governing body isn’t alone.

    None of the eight U.S. winter national governing bodies has finalized its accommodation plans for Sochi. Executives at each one said that wasn’t the case at this point ahead of the 2010 Vancouver Games or the 2006 Torino Games. The situation, which also extends to their sponsors and some Team USA sponsors, has them concerned.

    “We’re not close at all,” said Ogrean, who needs at least 20 rooms for staff and board members during the Games. “It may not be until summer until we get something worked out.”

    U.S. Figure Skating’s chief marketer, Ramsey Baker, said his organization has finalized some hotels but that it is having a hard time helping the families of its athletes secure accommodations.

    Sochi is still largely under construction, including new hotel rooms. Existing hotels like the Radisson (above) are booking up.
    Photo by: GETTY IMAGES (2)
    “In Vancouver, people were able to figure it out on their own,” Baker said. “In Sochi, they can’t figure it out.”

    Hospitality experts said there are a variety of factors in play for the Sochi Games that have made securing hotel rooms difficult. The Sochi Games mark the first time in more than two decades that the International Olympic Committee has taken a Winter Olympics to an undeveloped market. Lillehammer (1994), Nagano (1998), Salt Lake City (2002), Turin (2006) and Vancouver (2010) all had an existing infrastructure that was able to accommodate many of the more than 40,000 guests that travel to a Winter Games.

    But Sochi is still largely under construction. The region didn’t have an existing hotel infrastructure, and many of the needed new hotels are still being built. Between 2012 and 2018, the number of hotel rooms provided by international hotel chains ranging from Hyatt to Marriott to Capella is expected to rise from nearly 22,000 rooms to 47,000 rooms.

    Additionally, construction on some of those planned hotels has been halted, said Raffaella Cinti, who is based in Sochi and working on behalf of the Olympic hospitality agency Ludus Tours, which is assisting USA Luge with its accommodations in Russia. The decision to halt construction has made agencies like Ludus uncomfortable booking hotels that aren’t finished.

    “As a buyer of rooms, I don’t feel comfortable getting a hotel that might not be finished,” Cinti said. “Right now, there are eight buildings that were supposed to be finished and be hotels, but the government stopped the work. We’re not sure if they will start again.”

    Further complicating matters is the fact that many of the rooms at new hotels are being held by Sochi Olympic organizers for official Olympic sponsors and IOC officials. SportsMark CEO Steve Skubic said he experienced the complications that can come from that practice firsthand when he visited last month for Olympic test events. The group was supposed to be just four people, and SportsMark reserved four rooms at a Radisson near the ski resort of Rosa Khutor. Two weeks later, four other people decided to join the trip, and they called to reserve rooms, but there were none available at the Radisson. A week or so before they departed, they got a call from the Radisson, offering rooms that had become available.

    “What’s happening is that you have the organizing committee holding all these rooms until they know what they need, and then they’re released,” said Skubic, whose agency works with Visa, Procter & Gamble and other Olympic sponsors. “The same thing could be happening for the Olympics, as well. They could be waiting to be sure they have enough rooms for the Olympic family and sponsors, and then they will release them.”

    The other problem NGBs and hospitality agencies are running into is that there are few Western-style options outside the new hotels. Sochi is littered with what are known locally as mini hotels, two- or three-star local establishments that have just a handful of rooms and limited services. Many don’t have a reception area, lounge or restaurant, and most aren’t accustomed to Western expectations of lodging services.

    Pricing for those hotels is an issue, as well. Cinti said that she’s staying in one now that has no reception area, no lounge and no restaurant. She compared it to an apartment — and said that the property is charging $450 a night during the Olympics and is requiring people to reserve it for 30 days. That translates to a total cost of more than $13,000.

    “To me, that’s a lot,” Cinti said. “The prices aren’t higher [than past Olympics], but it’s just you won’t get the same experience.”

    Reserving rooms for the entire month of the Games is unrealistic for many NGBs and the families of Team USA members. Usually, NGB executives and families of athletes go to the Games around the time of their competition. In the case of luge, that’s just the first week of the Sochi Games. In the case of US Biathlon, that’s approximately 18 days. By booking rooms during just the time they need to be there, they could save thousands of dollars per room, which is significant for these nonprofit organizations.

    “We’ve gotten a price, but we’re not happy with it,” said US Biathlon CEO Max Cobb, who said his group was quoted $750 a night for a 30-night minimum. “We just want to find a little more value-oriented package.”

    U.S. Figure Skating is trying to alleviate some of the cost for families traveling to Sochi by creating a donor program to underwrite travel costs. The initiative, which is called the Family Tree Program, allows donors to purchase “a leaf” for $20.14. The money raised will go to offsetting travel costs for families of Team USA members. Three people have made $5,000 grants, and Puffs, a figure skating sponsor, matched one $50 gift in January with a $450 donation.

    “We looked at it and realized Sochi was different than Vancouver and it won’t be as easy,” Baker said. “The amount of housing available isn’t present, and it will be expensive to fly to Sochi. Knowing that in the past it’s been a concern for athletes that their families can afford to go, we know that will be even more of a concern in Sochi.”

    Tom Kelly, U.S. Ski & Snowboard Association vice president of communications, was one of the few NGB executives who said he wasn’t concerned about securing accommodations. The NGB began working on its room needs and planning for Sochi three years ago, and though it hasn’t finalized its housing plans, Kelly said it has three or four options in Krasnaya Polyana, which will host alpine events, and expects to have confirmation on multiple hotels and condominiums soon.

    “We don’t have a concern, but we have a lot of work to do,” Kelly said. “We knew we would have a lot of work to do.”

    The organization has made some changes to its hospitality plans for Sochi. In Turin and Vancouver, it rented space to host nightly medal celebrations. Kelly said it was difficult finding space to rent for comparable events in Sochi, so it will have a “mobile victory celebration” that will change each night based on where the organization makes dinner reservations.

    “It’s a really different [host city], so you have to make adjustments,” Kelly said. “There’s no comparison to previous Games because there’s not a tourism infrastructure in place.”

    Ogrean echoed that sentiment, saying that he’s sure USA Hockey and the other NGBs will secure rooms, but that it will take time.

    “If you have a cast iron stove and patience,” he said, “it always works out, but it will be later this year than usual.”

    Tags: Hockey, Olympics, Torino
  • Olympic Ratings: Prime-Time Trends


    Closing Ceremony
    16th Day (Saturday)
    15th Day (Friday)
    14th Day (Thursday)
    13th Day (Wednesday)
    12th Day (Tuesday)
    11th Day (Monday)
    10th Day (Sunday)
    9th Day (Saturday)
    8th Day (Friday)
    7th Day (Thursday)
    6th Day (Wednesday)
    5th Day (Tuesday)
    4th Day (Monday)
    3rd Day (Sunday)
    2nd Day (Saturday)
    Opening Ceremony
    17-DAY AVG.

  • On The Ground: From the Sochi Olympics

    Welcome to the SportsBusiness Journal/Daily website devoted to the Sochi Olympics.

    Beginning today and running through Tuesday, Feb. 25, our On The Ground blog has been converted into a comprehensive daily website devoted to the Olympics and the business behind it. This is the fourth straight Games that we've offered a website focused solely on the business of the Olympics, beginning with Beijing in 2008 (to access the 2012 London Olympic blog, click here).

    SBJ Olympics writer Tripp Mickle is in Sochi providing news updates, people profiles and personal insights from the Games. Tripp has covered the business side of the Olympics for SportsBusiness Journal since 2006, traveling to the last three Olympics. Also included on the site is SBJ's Olympic archives from the months leading up to Sochi.

    We hope you enjoy our coverage.

    Tags: On The Ground, Olympics
  • D'Alessandro Unplugged: Measuring bat speed in baseball

    Former John Hancock Financial Services CEO David D’Alessandro shared his thoughts on a number of topics in sports business and corporate life during a recent lunch with SportsBusiness Journal Executive Editor Abraham Madkour at D’Alessandro’s Toscano restaurant in Boston. On The Ground has featured excerpts of that conversation this week, the last of which appears below.

    We turn the conversation to other sports, and as usual, D’Alessandro’s not at a loss for words.

    “We Americans like our sports fast or violent or with the ability to turn the game around quickly,” he said, while continuing to not believe in the validity of soccer in America yet. He goes around the horn, “I was wrong about the NBA. Years ago, I thought the NBA was going to go soft. But David Stern has done a great job. There is no sport where the players control management and the coaches as much as basketball. I’m convinced that in basketball, two or three superstars decide who the coaches are and when the coaches get fired.”

    Baseball: “Baseball broadcasting is a disaster, but baseball in person is actually a very, very strong play. What is more boring than the broadcasters in baseball? They’re terrible. They’re filling time. If I have to hear one more old broadcaster talking about the quality of the hamburger he had last night in Kansas City versus the last time he was in Kansas City…. And it’s pace of game related. Baseball needs a whole different way to be broadcast. How much focus is there on pitch speed? We all love pitch speed. 'Oh, he is throwing 95 miles per hour! He is getting some movement on his fast ball!' In physics, that’s only half the transaction when the ball is hit. How fast he is throwing the ball and the movement is important, but what is also really important is bat speed. If you have a chip in the bat, a tiny chip that won’t change the bat, and you put one in the ball, you’ll know every time exactly where the ball was hit on the bat, and how much of the ball was actually hit. Wouldn’t it be interesting to know, if the ball is coming 90-something miles per hour, and David Ortiz’s bat speed is 37 or 47 miles per hour, which is down from last year. So, his bat speed is a little slow. Then you’d be able to show where he hit, because the ball flattens. We could actually see the dynamics of what’s happening. And it would make the broadcast more interesting. And if you tie that to the fact that the under-35 crowd is so tied to their smartphones that you could actually simulate that in a stadium and see what’s going on and talk about that in a manner that’s appealing. Why won’t they do that? They measure everything. This is measureable and would be interesting. That is what the commissioner should be spending time on. The subtleties of the game are lost on the younger crowd.”

    For more on this conversation see From The Executive Editor in this week’s SportsBusiness Journal.

    Tags: On The Ground
  • D'Alessandro Unplugged: Soccer is 'a stadium play'

    Former John Hancock Financial Services CEO David D’Alessandro shared his thoughts on a number of topics in sports business and corporate life during a recent lunch with SportsBusiness Journal Executive Editor Abraham Madkour at D’Alessandro’s Toscano restaurant in Boston. On The Ground will feature excerpts of that conversation this week.

    On soccer and other sports:

    “I believe that 100 years from now it could get better. The statistics say that all these kids are playing soccer, but that doesn’t mean they translate into fans. So the next line of defense of course is that we have a large Hispanic population. You know what they want to watch? They want to watch their country play soccer. … Look at NBC’s ratings in MLS. It’s slow, it doesn’t get national enthusiasm, despite the fact that you can fill a stadium. It’s a stadium play. The whole country where you have three not four big league sports in football, basketball, baseball, except hockey. Hockey’s savings grace is it’s violent. We like violence. Look at UFC. It is doing better in ratings than soccer.
    “The reason you buy a sponsorship is to add the credibility of that sport’s brand to your brand. That’s the halo effect.  It actually works the other way too for that sport. If they get major sponsors, it makes them look better too. If I was to sponsor a sport and go big with it, it would be the NFL, because it’s so big now. It has done a fantastic job permeating, even in the offseason. The NFL is still … and it doesn’t matter whether you are a big or small city, the television contract has allowed them to all be equally competitive. Baseball, it’s hard for Milwaukee to be competitive.

    For more on this conversation, see From The Executive Editor in this week’s SportsBusiness Journal.

    Tags: On The Ground
  • David Stern Discusses '80s Marketing, Building Boom For NBA, Other Topics

    Former NBA Commissioner David Stern sat down this weekend with TNT’s Ernie Johnson to discuss the end to his 30-year tenure. Stern said, "I didn’t have any idea what I was getting into, but I had grown up as a lawyer and to me the NBA was the client. I think that stayed with me to this day. You protect the NBA, that’s what you do if you’re a lawyer for a client.” Stern said of his early days as commissioner, “We just began taking on the world because the lack of respect that the league had was pervasive from the media, from the networks.” Stern said there was "no such thing as sports marketing" before Michael Jordan entered the league and "we had no new buildings." Stern: "The building boom started in ’87 with The Palace, with the four expansion teams through ’89 and now we’re sitting here some number of years later where every team is playing in either a new or a totally renovated building in the course of the last 30 years.” Stern said the “phenomenon” of Jordan and the Bulls helped the league “realize that there was something going on here” in terms of globalization “that we better get to understand."  

    Stern also discussed difficult issues he had to deal with, including a “refereeing scandal, that was pretty difficult." Stern: "We had to deal with two serious lockouts that threatened the season, we had to deal with Magic Johnson announcing he was HIV-positive at a time when there was no way that you were allowed to test to see whether anyone else was HIV-positive.” Stern said of Johnson’s diagnosis, “We thought that the league was existentially threatened by that because there was such a lack of knowledge about HIV/AIDS.” Stern said during labor negotiations, sometimes, “usually from without rather that from within, somebody would play the race card” and make it personal. Stern: “‘David Stern is like a plantation owner’ or something like that. That was the most personal it would get” during labor negotiations. I’m proudest of the diversity that this league has.”

    Stern said of his dealings with Mavericks Owner Mark Cuban, "I don't want to hurt Mark's feelings by indicating that he's not that much of a problem, because he would consider that to be a failure on his part. But let me say the following. One of the first early owners that I had to deal with was a gentleman by the name of Ted Turner and ... he was a bit of a maverick. He was imaginative, iconoclastic. He would break things just for kicks. He was visionary. He was difficult. He was bombastic. He was great and he's a friend and I will say to you that Mark is a friend. He has his own way and in the case of Mark, I am a foil and have been a foil and gladly so because actually we're friends. I have leaned on him for advice."

    Stern said he did not have any “great advice” for new Commissioner Adam Silver. Stern: "He and I have been working together, in some cases day and night, for 22 years and so he has done so much of what we’ve done together on his own watch, in his own way working together with me and others that he doesn’t need a lot of advice.” He added, "The only advice that I can give him is, ‘You got to do it your own way and you can’t be afraid to do something different.’ Change is good” (“David Stern: 30 Years,” NBA TV, 2/1).

    Below, read more of what was said and written about Stern during the final weekend of his 30-year tenure as commissioner.

    ESPN’s Dan Le Batard said of Stern, “He will be celebrated for having great success with this league, and he is also someone none of you would ever have wanted to work for because he was a bully and kind of a jerk who had great success with this league.” ESPN's Bomani Jones added, "The general image of the NBA and the player has changed a lot in the 10 years. A lot of it involved David Stern seeming like a curmudgeon, putting out dress codes and everything else. But look at that league right now. You can say everything you want about the NFL, but the guys in this league don’t get in trouble, they smile a lot for the camera, they bring their kids to press conferences and this is something that everyone could be proud of to see and you can’t divorce David Stern from those changes” (“Highly Questionable,” ESPN2, 1/31). Meanwhile, the Boston Globe's Bob Ryan said Stern was the "CEO as the league went from, if not necessarily a mom-and-pop grocery store but a chain of small convenience stores, into the international conglomerate that it is today, and he gets full credit for supervising that growth" ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 1/31). 

    ESPN’s Michael Wilbon said Stern “doesn’t want” the spotlight on his way out because “he had it.” Wilbon said “people close to him” should have “gone to David and said, ‘We want you to take another bow in New Orleans All-Star weekend.’ But David doesn’t want it and that’s why it’s not happening.” The net's Tony Kornheiser said the league is "in better shape now than it was when he got it, but I don’t think it’s as good as it was with Bird and Magic and certainly Michael Jordan.” Kornheiser said what Stern "understood more than anybody else is to market to stars. … He let America see his product and that was really smart.” Wilbon added, “Stern had to preside over a more difficult situation than either football or baseball … (and) was unafraid to confront serious, important things and there was no blueprint” (“PTI,” ESPN, 1/31).

    GRANTLAND's Charles Pierce wrote, "There is a natural tendency to treat him as though he were some complicated hybrid of Henry Ford, Don Draper, and Rick Rubin: the man who invented and sold an entirely new product that crossed national and cultural barriers to mainstream a new kind of sports-entertainment complex wah-dee-doo-dah. Much of that is true, but it’s only half the story."

    The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Chris Herring looked back at the "decisions and events that made Stern one of the most successful yet polarizing executives in sports history."

    The SACRAMENTO BEE's Ailene Voisin writes Stern's imprint "extends all over the globe" to N.Y., Beijing, Barcelona, Russia, Argentina, China and, soon enough, India.

    ESPN.com's Marc Stein wrote he "still feels as though Stern has been running the NBA my whole life," which is why "it's even harder to imagine the NBA without him."

    The Cleveland PLAIN DEALER's Mary Schmitt Boyer: "I'm among those who think he saved the league and turned it into a global marketing machine."

    The CHARLOTTE OBSERVER's Rick Bonnell wrote Stern "did a lot to salvage players’ reputations from times when there was a presumption half the league was doing drugs habitually."

    ESPN.com's J.A. Adande wrote under the header, "The Many Sides Of David Stern."

    Big East Commissioner and former WNBA President Val Ackerman said, "Without his vision and engagement, the league wouldn't have gotten off the ground. He was the mastermind, and the WNBA was really in line with his vision about how sports and society are intertwined."

    Pistons G Chauncey Billups: "He had a great run as commissioner."

    SPORTSNET.ca's Michael Grange wrote Stern "may rank at the very top" on the list of most valuable people in NBA history, "just as long as we aren’t talking about what Stern did in Canada."

    Tags: NBA
  • SBJ Podcast: Sochi's mountain of challenges

    Olympics reporter Tripp Mickle and SBJ Olympics editor Tom Stinson discuss some of the concerns and issues facing the Sochi Olympics, which are detailed in a front-page report this week entitled "Mountain of challenges."

    Tags: Olympics, SBJSBD Podcast
  • SBJ Champions Podcast: Joan Cronan

    Executive Editor Abraham Madkour and college writer Michael Smith introduce Joan Cronan as one of this year's Champions: Pioneers & Innovators in Sports Business. As women's athletic director at the University of Tennessee, Cronan was head of the most successful women's athletic department for nearly 30 years. This is the second in a series of six profiles of the 2014 class of The Champions.

    Tags: Champion, SEC, SBJSBD Podcast
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