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On the fruited plains of central Iowa next week, a collection of athletes little-known to Utahns will gather for a meeting destined to be ignored by the dungareed farmers plowing furrows in the Hawkeye state's fertile fields.

Utahns will be a little more attentive, however.By meeting's end, the athletes may have planted seeds that some believe will bring millions of dollars and invaluable prestige to Utah. Others are convinced the meeting's harvest will bring huge debt and profound insult to the state.

The crop: the 1998 Winter Olympics.

Members of the Salt Lake Winter Games Organizing Committee will travel this week to Des Moines, Iowa, to peddle their wares in front of the U.S. Olympic Committee's 93-member executive board - their second bid this decade. Local Olympic boosters also made an unsuccessful bid in 1985.

On June 4, one city - Salt Lake City; Anchorage, Alaska; Denver or Reno-Tahoe, Nev. - will be chosen by the USOC to be "America's Choice" to vie for the Games before the International Olympic Committee in 1991.

Renaissance town or city in arrears?

If America's Choice is indeed Salt Lake City, Utah could emerge as the western U.S. winter sports capital. That, says Salt Lake Mayor Palmer DePaulis, is "the most important reason" for bringing the Olympics.

DePaulis believes establishing a Utah winter sports mecca, together with a commitment to education, arts and science, will bring a sense of "wholeness" to the city. "It's that renaissance concept that we can have it all," DePaulis said.

But while the mayor declares "we can have it all," Olympic critics are wondering who will pay for it all while Utah struggles to fund pressing needs, such as education.

"I worry about the tradeoff - this is a zero sum state at the moment," said Gale Dick, dean of University of Utah graduate schools and a self-styled "Olympic skeptic."

The Utah Legislature created the Winter Games Authority this year and gave it the power to collect $4 million annually in state and local sales tax to buy bonds for constructing Olympic facilities.

Local organizers have budgeted $56 million in public money for construction of a bobsled-luge run, ski jump and speed skating rink. Total cost: $40.4 million.

If Salt Lake City wins the U.S. bid and passes the Olympic question in a referendum this fall, Utah must have the bobsled-luge run and skating rink under construction within 18 months - the result of an "18-month rule" passed last year by the USOC.

But if the IOC fails when it meets in 1991 to select Salt Lake City to host the Games, local Olympics critics claim the state will have a pair of white elephants lumbering across its winter horizon.

"There's no way they can convince me that there are enough bobsledders and lugers to make those things pay for themselves," said long-time Olympic critic Alexis Kelner.

Organizers admit whether such facilities can be self-sustaining is debatable. "The jury's still out on that," said Organizing Committee Chairman Tom Welch. Making the facilities profitable, though, "hinges on the Olympics."

An Olympics in Utah will pique interest in winter sports here and trigger an avalanche of sporting events, advertising and broadcasting interests, boosting the facilities' ability to generate revenue, Welch said.

Sign on dotted line

If Salt Lake City does go the distance and wins the IOC bid, it will be the city, backed up by taxpayers, which signs the bottom line of an IOC contract - assuming total financial responsibility for the Games.

Organizers have assembled a bare bones budget for the Games - possible, organizers say, because many needed facilities already exist - that would yield a $50 million surplus left over from a projected $451 million in revenues.

Local Olympic boosters - recalling the $32 million surplus posted by Calgary, host of the 1988 Winter Olympics, and the astounding success of the Los Angeles Summer Games in 1984 - are confident a carefully planned Utah event also can result in a surplus.

But critics discount the successes of Calgary, which received $370 million from Canadian governments for Olympic-related expenditures and Los Angeles, an anomaly which benefited from abnormally high corporate and media support.

Without "a rich sugar daddy" to bankroll Utah, Kelner said, the city can't expect similar experiences in 1998.

"The greatest risk is that by contract with the IOC, the city residents are held responsible if anything goes wrong," Kelner said. Former Olympic hosts Lake Placid, N.Y., and Montreal, Canada, are still paying debts, he said.

But as with many risks, there is huge potential for gain. Olympic organizers estimate total economic impact for the three-week Winter Olympics and the years preparing for it to be $843 million.

That's a lot of new school teachers, especially considering that tax revenues from the Games are estimated to be $34 million - a hefty boost that could bring the thrill of victory to state tax collectors.

Olympic lotto: The quest for network TV dollars

If the Winter Olympics were an international poker game, broadcasting rights to the Games would be the global trump card. Media rights for the 1998 Winter Olympics will be sold in 1994 - three years after the IOC selects a host city.

Organizers, in a preliminary budget for the Games, estimate pocketing $210 million from domestic and foreign broadcast rights - the second most conservative TV revenue estimate among the four bidding cities.

Their estimates are in line with Calgary's sale of $309 million in TV rights and Albertville, France's, $243 million media rights sale for the 1992 Winter Games.

Much of that money would go to pay for facilities, several of which - the bobsled-luge and speedskating rink required under the USOC's 18-month rule - already would have been built.

Welch said that TV revenue will also provide taxpayers in 1995 or 1996 with their first returns on public expenditures for Olympic facilities.

Regardless of its specific use, TV revenue will bring needed momentum to paying for the Games - if what networks are willing to pay meets local organizers' expectations.

Olympic critics are skeptical they will.

While TV contracts have grown exponentially along with the time dedicated to airing Olympics, ratings have been shrinking (see accompanying chart). Olympic skeptics say the decline is a sign that networks could lose interest in paying big money for the Games.

Selling the broadcast rights to the 1998 Winter Games for $210 million is "hopefully imaginative," Dick said.

If networks don't come through with substantial checks for airing a Salt Lake Olympics, a major portion of the city's anticipated revenues won't materialize at a point when the city is fully committed to holding the Games.

Perry Como doesn't live here anymore

Mayor DePaulis' home turf has taken its beatings in the arena of national perception. With the Los Angeles Times lampooning Salt Lake City as a "Perry-Como-Kind-of-Place," DePaulis says its time to take the offensive.

"Too often in the past, we have let others define us. . . . It is time to say to ourselves and to the world, this is who we are," DePaulis said in February in his annual "State of the City" address.

DePaulis and other boosters think hosting the Olympics is the perfect opportunity to define Salt Lake City - much the same way Calgarians did for their city in 1988.

Before hosting the Winter Games, Calgary was viewed as little more than a frontier cow town. But through the magic of network television, Calgary organizers were able to show the world another, cosmopolitan side of Calgary.

DePaulis said heading off critical media by letting Salt Lake City define Salt Lake City will give the city the image it wants and deserves.

Or will it?

"In my own mind there seems to be tacit recognition that any publicity by definition is good publicity," Olympic skeptic Dick said.

"I'm afraid we're discovering that is not the case this very moment," he said, referring to bruising the state has taken from critics of the University of Utah's cold fusion experiments.

The environment: Not in my canyons - for now

The city's Olympic bid has enjoyed strong support since DePaulis officially announced the city's intentions of going for the Games last Nov. 14. One reason for its warm reception was DePaulis' acquiescence to environmentalists.

DePaulis is loath "to leave any issues on the table" subject to attack and consequently vowed to protect the Wasatch Front's Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons from becoming Olympic venues.

Environmentalist's rallied in 1985 to garner strong opposition to a 1994 Olympic bid particularly because the canyons were listed among potential venues.

While the city's bid now excludes any Cottonwood Canyon sites, Snowbird ski area was early on discussed as a possible backup site for some events. Olympic skeptics believe the Canyons aren't yet fully immune from the Olympics.

Indeed, the Canyon Masterplan programming development in the canyons and now being considered by the Salt Lake County Commission leaves open the possibility of hosting Olympic sports in the canyons.

An Olympic plebiscite

When the state Legislature created the Winter Games Authority, it specified that Utahns would have an opportunity to vote on an Olympics referendum in November before any publicly generated funds are spent.

City officials have acknowledged that Utah's planned referendum is an issue in the minds of USOC delegates. The USOC may recall 1972 when, after winning the USOC and IOC bids, Denver voters turned down a public funding mechanism and killed the city's dreams for the 1976 Olympics.

Support for the Games has stayed above 70 percent in two Deseret News/KSL TV polls and enthusiasm for spending public money has risen. But skeptics and cheerleaders alike say significant opposition will appear soon.

"I feel confident that a number of groups who are ordinarily thought of as environmental groups may get involved even though the issues now aren't environmental," Dick said.

"I want to see a very broad debate between June and November," Kelner added.

Welch says that's just the way he wants it. He said there won't be any secretive deals cut in smoke-filled rooms. Everything will be out in the open and everyone will have an opportunity for their say. And when it's over, he's confident Utahns will give the Games the green light.


(Additional information)

A willing host

Although not common knowledge, Salt Lake City is a seasoned veteran when it comes to bidding to host the Winter Olympics. Serious efforts to host the Games date back more than two decades. Here's a quick look at the city's quest for the Olympic rings:

-February 1965 - Gov. Calvin L. Rampton announces Utah's intentions to bid to host 1972 Winter Games.

-February 1967 - Olympics for Utah Inc. President Maxwell E. Rich officially announces Salt Lake City will vie against five other U.S. cities to be America's representative to host the 1976 Winter Games.

-December 1967 - The U.S. Olympic Committee selects Denver as its 1976 representative to the International Olympic Committee. Salt Lake finishes third.

-November 1972 - Salt Lake Mayor Jake Garn sends a telegram to IOC indicating "moderate interest" in hosting the 1976 Games after Colorado voters reject them.

-January 1973 - USOC picks Salt Lake City as site for 1976 Winter Games, contingent on IOC approval.

-January 1973 - Garn withdraws city's bid to play host to 1976 Winter Games due to lack of time and federal financial support.

-April 1984 - Gov. Scott M. Matheson and Salt Lake Mayor Ted Wilson request information on possible bid for 1992 or 1996 Winter Games.

-March 1985 - Winter Games Feasibility Committee approves making hurried bid for 1992 Winter Games.

-June 1985 - Local Olympic boosters travel to Indianapolis to bid on 1992 Games; Games are subsequently awarded to Anchorage, Alaska.


(Additional information)

Biography: Thomas K. Welch

Age: 43

Job: Executive vice president and general counsel, Smith's Food & Drug Center Inc.

Political persuasion: Republican

Olympic sport he likes best: Smith's, Eighth South and Ninth East

Favorite desert: Baked Alaska

Pet peeve: Negativism

Last movie seen: "Field of Dreams"

Last Book read: "The Art of Fly Fishing"

How he unwinds: Camping with family

Family: Wife, Alma, six children

How he hooked up with the olympics: "It was during a 1985 luncheon with Salt Lake Mayor Ted Wilson, Chamber of Commerce president Fred Ball and other community leaders. I think it was Fred who said, 'What are you doing for the next 10 years of your life.'"

Predicition for Des Moines: "We should win. It's not over yet, and you've got three other cities working just as hard as we're working--telling their story. But I think our city has a better story."