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Volume 20 No. 42


Record ticket sales are being reported for this week’s marquee Olympic trials.

USA Gymnastics and USA Track & Field have sold more tickets for this week’s trials than they did in 2008, and USA Swimming has topped its gross ticket sales number of $4.4 million and expects to sell more than the 160,000 tickets it sold to its event four years ago.

An athlete warms up before the U.S. Olympic track and field trials, where nearly all of the competitions have sold out.
Photo by: AP IMAGES
Organizers for all three events credited marketing efforts and the expansion of fan festivals, which were added to trials events over the last decade, with driving ticket sales increases. Track and field and swimming also benefited from returning to the same host markets they visited in 2008 — Eugene, Ore., and Omaha, Neb., respectively.

“The trials model has evolved beyond being just about the sports to become a community event,” said USA Gymnastics President Steve Penny. “We’ve all tried to extend our walls beyond the field of play and it’s paying off.”

USA Gymnastics has exceeded its sales goals for its trials, which begin this week in San Jose. The organization is working with the local sports authority on the event. It has sold more than $2.5 million in tickets, exceeding what it sold in Philadelphia in 2008. The sales success comes on the heels of the record attendance of 24,714 that turned out for its Visa Championships in St. Louis earlier this month.

Penny said the organization has had help from 300 local gymnastics clubs that are selling tickets. It also has used Olympians and past world champions in the market on a regular basis to keep the event in the local media.

The organization will have a Visa Fan Fest adjacent to HP Pavilion where visitors can get autographs and face paint and work out. There will be an AT&T Block Party and bands will play before and after the event.

USA Track & Field, which opened its trials over the weekend in Eugene, is seeing similar success. The Oregon Track Club, which is organizing the event, added 1,200 temporary seats for the event and has nearly sold out all of the competitions at the expanded, 19,200-seat Hayward Stadium. Only a few daily tickets remained as of press time last week.

The organizers also expanded its fan festival area. TrackTown, as the 240,000-square-foot area is called, will be 40,000 square feet larger than it was in 2008. It will feature live music, a beer zone developed by microbrewer Deschutes Brewery, and a Nike store that is the size of an international soccer field.

“Tickets went quickly, but we still wanted people to be able to celebrate the event being in town, and the fan festival being free allows them to do that,” said Mike Higgins, partnership manager at SportsOne, an Oregon marketing agency that is managing the fan zone.

USA Swimming increased its ticket prices by $3 on average to $50, $65 and $80 for its trials, which begin today. The organization expects to sell more than the 160,000 tickets sold in 2008; it already has sold 153,000 and topped its gross ticket total from 2008 by $300,000.

“We’re very pleased right now and believe it could end up a lot better,” said Mike Unger, USA Swimming chief operating officer. “For us, this is the last time [Michael] Phelps is swimming in the U.S., and we’re pushing that locally.”

The organization is bringing back its fan festival, known as the AquaZone. It will offer visitors the chance to visit sponsor displays from Speedo, AT&T and others.

The U.S. Olympic Committee this week is expected to take the first step toward determining when and what Olympics it will bid for in the future.

USOC Chief Executive Officer Scott Blackmun is expected to propose that the organization’s board, which is meeting Thursday in San Jose, create a committee to evaluate the organization’s options for bidding, sources familiar with the proposal said. It’s unclear if that committee would be limited to board members or extend to outsiders.

The USOC’s new revenue-sharing agreement with the International Olympic Committee, which it reached last month, paves the way for a bid, but the organization still has to determine what Olympics it would want to host. The next two Olympics it can bid for are the 2022 Winter Games and the 2024 Summer Games. Bids likely would have to be submitted for those Games in 2013 and 2015, respectively.

The subcommittee will study options and make a recommendation to the board.

The USOC’s leadership believes bringing the Olympics back to the U.S. is critical to long-term interest in the event and its sports. The Games also have the potential to generate revenue for the USOC in the form of long-term sponsorship support.

Ebersol was part of a group who met late last year to discuss future USOC bids.
The USOC already has done some preliminary research and held informal meetings about when to bid. It brought together a group of Olympic experts at Covington & Burling’s office in New York in December to discuss the pros and cons of bidding for a Summer or a Winter Games. Among those in attendance were former NBC Sports Chairman Dick Ebersol, former New York 2012 bid leader Dan Doctoroff, AEG Chief Executive Officer Tim Leiweke, former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, USOC board member Mike Plant, former USOC President Harvey Schiller and others.

The pros of a Summer Olympics are that the USOC would stand to bring in more revenue and host an event with wider appeal to Americans. The cons are that it will face more competition and have to convince an elite U.S. city to pay for a bid.
The pros of a Winter Olympics are that there is considered to be less competition for the Games and there are cities already lined up expressing interest, including Salt Lake City, Denver and Reno-Lake Tahoe on the Nevada-California border. The cons are that the Games would generate less money and not have as broad an appeal.

A study that the USOC commissioned prior to the 2011 meeting showed the difference in revenue generated by a Summer and Winter Games was marginal. Sources in attendance said Ebersol was a big champion of bidding for a Winter Olympics, but it was unclear which way the USOC would go.

A final decision won’t be determined until after the board’s bid exploration committee has reviewed the organization’s options.