Olympic officials are scrambling to find an official investment banker for the 2002 Winter Games now that Merrill Lynch has chosen not to renew a 20-year-old sponsorship deal.

For the past two decades, the investment firm had sponsored the U.S. Olympic teams. However, Merrill Lynch declined to spend a reported $20 million for a new sponsorship package that also included the Salt Lake Games.

So now the joint marketing arm for the Salt Lake Organizing Committee and the U.S. Olympic Committee is trying to sign up another investment firm as soon as possible. The asking price could go as low as $10 million.

The investment banker sponsorship category "is one we have been actively marketing now for a month or a month and a half," said Mark Lewis, head of the joint marketing arm, the Olympic Properties of the United States.

Lewis and his marketing team spent a day in New York City recently meeting with eight investment firms and are planning a similar trip to the West Coast. Charles Schwab is among the companies already contacted.

Time is running out. Although the sponsorship package includes the U.S. Olympic teams through the 2004 Summer Games in Athens, Greece, the real value is the right to advertise an association with the 2002 Games, which begin in about 15 months.

Merrill Lynch gave no reason for not continuing as an Olympic sponsor. A company official who for many years was associated with the USOC recently retired from a volunteer post with the Colorado Springs-based organization.

SLOC is counting on sponsors to close a budget gap that now stands at $70 million. That's getting more difficult now that the minimum price tag for sponsorships has dropped from $20 million to $10 million.

The value of sponsorship deals fell after the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney, Australia, ended last month, leaving just two more Games — Salt Lake's and Athens' — before the deals expire in 2004.

Companies are paying for the right to advertise their association with the Salt Lake Games and the U.S. Olympic teams in the United States as well as for access to buying tickets and renting hotel rooms in 2002.

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