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Pssst . . . need new skis? Utah's Olympic supporters have a deal for you. Just $1,998 will buy not only a top-of-the-line pair but also an opportunity to support the effort to win the 1998 Winter Games.

What's that? You don't ski? Don't worry. This sales force is pitching a growing list of Olympic memorabilia and events, ranging from a "free" bumper sticker for a $19.98 donation to a $1,000-a-plate dinner with Utah's senators.It doesn't matter what you buy as long as everyone's purchases add up to $1.7 million by June 15, the day that the International Olympic Committee decides which city will host the 1998 Winter Games.

That's how much money it will take to turn around the deficit projected by the Salt Lake City Bid Committee for the Olympic Winter Games and to continue to bring IOC members to Utah before they meet in Birmingham, England, to vote.

Bid committee officials want the dollars in the bank before the IOC vote - an acknowledgment of how tough it will be to come up with that kind of cash later if Salt Lake City doesn't get the bid.

But Olympic supporters are trying to raise more than money. They also want to boost enthusiasm about the Winter Games among Utahns, whose interest peaked during the 1989 Olympic referendum.

If Salt Lake City is selected over competitors in Japan, Sweden, Italy, Spain and the Soviet Union, strong public support will make it easier to rally the huge volunteer force needed for a successful Olympics.

Strong public support also will make it easier to maintain momentum if Salt Lake City doesn't get the bid for 1998 and has to try for the 2002 Winter Games.

"This is blatantly and unabashedly a sales job," Salt Lake Area Chamber of Commerce President Fred Ball recently told the bid committee's board of directors.

Late last year, the chamber assumed both fund-raising and community relations duties after state and local leaders lobbied behind the scenes for the bid committee to delegate some of its responsibilities.

The intent was to spread out the workload so more people can be involved and more can be accomplished in the few months remaining before the site of the 1998 Winter Games is named.

The biggest responsibility given to the chamber is reviving a fund-raising campaign that has suffered since Atlanta was awarded the 1996 Summer Games last fall, causing concern the IOC wouldn't pick another American city for the 1998 Games.

Public support, which in many ways has been taken for granted since voters agreed to spend $56 million in sales taxes for Olympic facilities, was also affected by the Atlanta decision.

"Now is the time for the community to get excited and get involved," bid committee chairman Tom Welch said, adding that making this pitch any sooner might have resulted in interest peaking again before June.

"Should we have been doing before what we are doing now? I don't think so. You can only maintain momentum in relation to the dollars you're willing to invest in it," he said.

Ball said his new undertaking is "no reflection on how things were done in the past." The bid committee describes his responsibilities as the vice chairman with words like, "motivate," "inspire" and "excite."

He has already taken them to heart.

Last week, Ball gathered a dozen business leaders together, labeled them the Olympics Round Table, and made them responsible for contributing $100,000 each to the bid committee."We don't care if they give it or get it," Ball said, just so they come up with $1.2 million that will be used to bring more IOC members to see what Salt Lake City has to offer.

Only about one-fourth of the 94 members of the IOC have visited the state so far. Bid committee officials hope to host at least 50 more, but each visit costs about $20,000.

The IOC members, who represent countries from all corners of the globe, and their spouses get the red-carpet treatment when they come to Salt Lake City, including first-class air fare.

Money is also needed to cover the cost of running the bid committee - which is supported entirely by private funds - and pay off $168,000 in loans as well as bills.

As of the end of last month, the bid committee was running more than $240,000 in the red. Projections show that without new money the bid committee will be $400,000 in the red by the end of the budget year, June 30.

That's where everyone who hasn't been asked to sit at the Olympics Round Table - and the skis, T-shirts, flags and other Olympic merchandise and events - are supposed to come in.

Ball has already made his sales pitch to dozens of business and civic organizations and is relying on direct mail and telemarketing to reach much of the rest of the population.

"I have never had anybody say to me, `I'm not going to give you any money because I don't want the Olympics to come to Utah,' " he said. "They're either going to give me a check or they're telling me they can't do it now."

Like all skillful salesmen, Ball insists he's doing the buyer a favor.

"We're giving people an opportunity to have some ownership in this thing and be more involved," he said.

Not all of the involvement carries a price tag. For example, the chamber, with the Utah League of Cities and Towns, plans to identify a pair of Olympic boosters - one man and one woman - in each of the state's 239 communities.

These examples of "Olympic spirit" will be brought to Salt Lake City, showered with Winter Games merchandise, and sent back to their communities to pitch the importance of the bid to their friends and neighbors.

Besides the statistics about the economic and emotional value of hosting a Winter Olympics, the Olympic ambassadors will carry what may be an even more important message to their communities.

That message is that Utah is bidding not just to host the Winter Games but also to become a winter sports capital and it's a message that has often gotten lost in all the excitement and hype about the Olympics.

"I think it's got to be reinforced. It's the bottom line," Ball said. "The Olympics is the glamorous thing. It's the sexy issue. It's what people want to talk about."

Ball and company realize that the public needs to be reminded that when voters agreed in 1989 to set aside $56 million in sales taxes, they also agreed to spend the money regardless of whether Salt Lake City ever hosts a Winter Games.

Referendum backers promised voters that the skating rinks, bobsled runs and other facilities being built with their tax dollars will make Utah a winter sports capital, the site of national and international competitions.

Utahns probably won't need to be concerned about holding them to that promise if Salt Lake City gets the 1998 Winter Games, since the facilities will be showcased worldwide during the Olympics.

It's likely to be a different story if the state is passed over this June by the IOC. Olympic supporters will have to divide their time between courting the 2002 Winter Games and lesser international and national competitions.

Whether the public would be as interested in supporting a world championship luge or speed-skating competition as they are a Winter Games remains to be seen.

Right now, though, the state's Olympic sales force isn't thinking much beyond what they hope will be a celebration after the IOC makes its decision.

"On June 15, the eyes of the world are going to be on Salt Lake, whether we win or whether we lose," Welch said. "We want to make sure we stand proud on that day, either way."



Deseret News graphic

Selling the Olympics

What's for sale? Price # for Sale Number Sold

Silver Olympic

medallions and print $500 1,000 121

Gold Olympic

medallions and print $5,000 10 8

Copies of Olympic

bid book sets $1,000 300 10

Olympic skis $1,998 1,000 121

The Salt Lake City Bid Committee for the Olympic Winter Games receives royalties from the sale lof Olympic T-shirts, sweatshirts, mugs, key rings and similar items.

What's to do?

Field day

Several hundred fifth-graders from throughout the state will participate in a Winter Games at Rice Stadium on April 17 to familiarize them with Olympic events.

Community Olympians

A male and a female representative selected fro each of Utah's 239 communities will be honored in Salt Lake City for their Olympic spirit.