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Volume 20 No. 46
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Improved USOC-IOC relationship on display

When NBC and the International Olympic Committee three years ago held a press call for their $4.4 billion TV rights deal, U.S. Olympic Committee Chairman Larry Probst joined reporters watching then-IOC President Jacques Rogge and Comcast CEO Brian Roberts speak.

But when IOC President Thomas Bach and Roberts last week held a media call to announce a $7.65 billion extension of that deal, Probst found himself seated alongside them fielding questions from the press.

Probst’s move from observer to participant was the latest testament to how much the USOC’s relationship with the IOC has improved over the last few years. And that, along with the latest NBC-IOC deal, puts the USOC in a far better position to bring the Olympics back to the U.S. than it’s ever been.

“There seems to be much stronger relationships at the highest level,” said Jon Tibbs, who heads JTA, an international sports consultancy that advises the Association of National Olympic Committees. “It seems as if the USOC has found the right balance between listening and communicating. They are treated more as equals than as an exception, and they’re behaving like equals rather than an exception. That means people are viewing them more as partners and there’s a greater sense of partnership with the USOC now.”

Strains in the USOC and IOC relationship began more than a decade ago because of a growing sense in international sports circles that the USOC received more IOC revenue than it should. Under a deal struck in 1996, the organization received 12.75 percent of U.S. TV revenue and 20 percent of global sponsorship revenue.

The USOC cut a new revenue-sharing agreement with the IOC in 2012, agreeing to reduce its share of revenue increases for TV rights money from 12.75 percent to 7 percent. It also gets a smaller share of revenue increases for global sponsorships.

Since that time, Probst has become a member of the IOC and been named chairman of the IOC’s press commission, and USOC Chief Executive Officer Scott Blackmun has become a member of the IOC’s marketing commission. But the first evidence of the IOC and USOC working together on a business matter came around last week’s NBC-IOC deal. When NBC and the IOC reached a handshake agreement on the new deal in March, the IOC brought the USOC into the negotiations. It was able to have a voice in the agreement and participate in the final negotiations for the rights to the 2022 through 2032 Olympics.

In 2011, the USOC simply was asked to sign the documents that the IOC had drafted for NBC to sign after it won the rights to the 2014 through 2020 Olympics.

“The cooperation from the USOC was absolutely excellent,” said Timo Lumme, the IOC’s director of TV and marketing services. “They were totally supportive, and if they hadn’t been, we wouldn’t have been able to get from the end of March to the beginning of May [in the negotiations]. That’s evidence of the great collaboration and strong relationship between the IOC and USOC.”

The combination of improved relations between the USOC and IOC and the financial security that NBC’s $7.65 billion deal offers the Olympics should boost the USOC’s plan to bring an Olympic Games to the U.S. The organization is identifying a bid city for the 2024 Summer Games. Boston, Dallas, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., are being evaluated. The USOC plans to choose by the end of the year. The IOC will vote on a 2024 host city in 2017.

The connection between a U.S. bid and the NBC deal wasn’t lost on anyone last week. Both Probst and NBC Sports Chairman Mark Lazarus spoke about it.

“We think this is a terrific deal for all involved,” Probst said during last week’s media call. “It obviously helps to secure the long-term financial support for our athletes. With regard to a 2024 bid, we are continuing with the process.” Lazarus added, “We certainly would be supportive of a Games in the States or North America. It would be good for our business, but this deal was made without knowledge of where these Games will be.”

Former IOC TV and marketing executive Michael Payne expects both NBC and the USOC to benefit. “There’s no question within that period they will have at least a Summer Games in the U.S., and maybe a Summer and a Winter,” Payne said.