Goodwill Games--A Made-for-Detente Ted Turner Spectacular : His Soviet Coup Exposes a Lot of Ill Will in the U.S. Sporting Establishment
Ted Turner failed in three attempts to become a member of the U.S. Olympic yachting team, but Atlanta’s gift to television, movies, sailing, professional baseball and basketball and, now, perhaps even world peace, is nothing if not persistent.
If you can’t join them, beat them.
While watching the 1984 Olympics from Los Angeles on television, Turner was struck with the inspiration that he could create summer games that would be better than the Summer Games.
The result is the Goodwill Games, so called because, as Turner said in an interview, one of his purposes is to promote friendship between the event’s two principal nations, the United States and the Soviet Union. If it also makes for good TV and brings prestige and profits to Turner’s burgeoning communications empire, so be it.
Scheduled for July 5-20 in the Soviet Union, Goodwill Games I is expected to involve more than 3,500 athletes from 50 nations in 18 sports, most of which also are included in the Summer Olympics. All of the competition will be held in Moscow except for yachting, which will be held in the Estonian seaport of Tallinn.
Turner’s superstation, WTBS, and various independent stations, including KTLA (Channel 5) in Los Angeles, will televise 120 hours of Goodwill Games competition in the United States.
Planning already has begun for Goodwill Games II, which is scheduled for 1990 in a U.S. city to be announced in May or June. Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco are among 11 candidates.
If that is too subtle an indication that Turner expects his creation to be a success, there is nothing at all subtle about his recent proclamation that the Goodwill Games are “bigger than the Olympics.”
He also said that the last two boycott-marred Summer Olympics were shams.
Not for nothing is Turner known as the Mouth of the South.
Like a patient whose knee had just been struck by a rubber hammer, United States Olympic Committee President Robert Helmick kicked. He called Turner’s comments ludicrous and inaccurate.
His candor was surprising only because there had been so little of it before from the USOC in regard to Turner or the Goodwill Games. Since the USOC was not invited to contribute to the effort, some of its members have expressed concern that the committee’s role in amateur athletics is being threatened. But the official position of the USOC has been to take no position.
The bottom line for the USOC is that it will not share in any profits, but neither will it have to share in any losses.
Robert Wussler, executive vice president of Turner Broadcasting System, Inc., and the man responsible for negotiations with the Soviets, said he is optimistic that there will be profits, even though only one major company, Pepsi Cola, has signed a sponsorship agreement. Pepsi will pay $10 million as the official soft drink of the Goodwill Games and as the sole sponsor of the gymnastics competition.
According to Wussler, the Goodwill Games will cost $86 million. Turner’s share is expected to be $32 million, and his two Soviet partners, Gosteleradio, the Soviet Union’s state committee for television and radio, and Soyuzsport, the Soviet Union’s Ministry of Sports and Physical Culture, each are liable for at least $27 million.
Also included among Turner’s expenses are a $7.5-million payment to Soyuzsport for providing Soviet athletes and $3.1 million to Gosteleradio for the television rights.
Expected to be the major beneficiary in the United States is The Athletics Congress, the national governing body for track and field, which was contracted by Turner as the organizer for the Goodwill Games because of Executive Director Ollan Cassell’s international sports expertise.
TAC received $5.4 million from Turner to pay the 18 individual U.S. federations for their participation and also to compensate them for their expenses.
As the largest federation, TAC reportedly apportioned $1 million to itself and also received a substantial finder’s fee for negotiating terms in the United States and the Soviet Union that will enable most of the other federations to send their best athletes.
Cassell has received commitments from officials in all but two of the 18 sports to send the best athletes available to them this summer, assuring the best, if not necessarily the most significant, international multisport competition outside of the Olympics.
“I don’t see this as any made-for-TV type show,” said Harvey Newton, executive director of the U.S. Weightlifting Federation. “If it’s going to be a cakewalk competition, then fine. We’ll all smile and wave and collect our medals. But I don’t think it’s going to be that way. Most of the best athletes in the world are going to be there.”
There will be no men’s basketball competition in Moscow, however, because the world tournament is scheduled for the same two weeks in Spain. Also, the best U.S. swimmers will be training for their world meet three weeks later in Madrid.
Negotiations with officials of those two sports are evidence of Turner’s eagerness to see that his telecast succeeds, which, in his and Nielsen’s eyes, would translate into success for the Goodwill Games.
When Turner became aware of the conflict with the world basketball tournament, his first proposal was to send the United States’ second team to play the Soviet Union’s second team in the Goodwill Games. But the Soviets are the Manute Bols of negotiators when it comes to rejecting terms they consider unfavorable.
“We’re about 350 deep in quality amateur basketball players,” said Bill Wall, executive director of the U.S. Amateur Basketball Assn. (ABAUSA). “They’re about eight deep. It wouldn’t have been any competition for us.”
So if Turner couldn’t bring men’s basketball to the Goodwill Games, he decided to take the Goodwill Games to men’s basketball.
He bought the rights to the world tournament from the International Amateur Basketball Federation (FIBA) in order to televise them during the Goodwill Games.
Turner was satisfied.
FIBA was satisfied.
But ABAUSA was not satisfied.
Recognizing that Turner would have no show from Spain if the United States was a no-show, Wall threatened to boycott unless ABAUSA received a participation fee. Furthermore, Wall said, ABAUSA would not send its women’s team to Moscow for the Goodwill Games if the men’s team did not go to Spain.
In basketball, that is known as charging.
Turner paid. What better way is there to create good will than by spreading the wealth?
The swimmers also have a scheduling conflict. They have trials scheduled June 22-27 at Orlando, Fla., to select a team for the world meet Aug. 15-24 in Madrid. They cannot realistically be in top form at the world meet if they also enter a major competition in July in Moscow.
Ray Essick, executive director of U.S. Swimming, Inc. (USS), proposed to send the third- and fourth-place finishers from the trials in Orlando to the Goodwill Games to meet the Soviets in dual competition.
Turner has counter-proposed that WTBS will buy the rights to televise the trials from Orlando if U.S. Swimming will send at least one-fourth of its world competition team to Moscow.
“The upside is that we would get television exposure from our trials that we normally wouldn’t get,” said Jeff Dimond, a USS spokesman. “The downside is that we might get our heads handed to us at the world championships. That’s a big downside.” Discussions are continuing.
The message is clear. The unprecedented venture of a corporation, Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. in this case, into the establishment of an international multisport competition has created a seller’s market for various amateur athletic federations in the United States. That’s a new experience for most of the federations.
“We’ve all been so poor for so many years,” said David Prouty, executive director of the U.S. Cycling Federation. “Now we’re all into high finance.”
Some, of course, are into higher finance than others.
In its own sport, TAC has assured the participation of many prominent athletes the new-fashioned way in amateur track and field, by paying them.
Each member of the track and field team, which will include the first two finishers in each event from the national meet June 20-22 in Eugene, Ore., will receive $2,000 as an appearance fee for the Goodwill Games.
The track and field competition in Moscow also has been added to the Mobil/Grand Prix schedule, which enables athletes the opportunity to score points toward prize money at the end of the summer.
Since international rules regarding amateurism are more traditional than those in track and field, other athletes in the Goodwill Games will not be paid.
Col. Don Hull, president of the U.S. Amateur Boxing Federation (USA/ABF), said that the competitors in his sport are jealous of the track and field athletes.
But USA/ABF still will send winners to Moscow from the national tournament March 31-April 5 at Beaumont, Tex.
The federation received an estimated $300,000 to $400,000 in negotiations with TAC, which was lucrative enough for USA/ABF to break its exclusive television contract with ABC in order to appear this summer on WTBS.
“We’re satisfied with what we’re getting,” Hull said. “You might find some arguments from the NGBs (national governing bodies) when they find out what track and field is getting, but a reduced part of something is better than nothing. We feel TAC should be rewarded for their services.”
But even officials whose sports are receiving far less than boxing said during the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) Executive Board meetings in Salt Lake City last month that they do not begrudge TAC its share.
“I’m a proponent of the free market,” said Mike Donahue, president of the U.S. Gymnastics Federation (USGF), which will send its national teams to Moscow.
“We’re not getting as much as track and field, but it’s revenue we wouldn’t otherwise have gotten in 1986.”
Donahue said that most sports also will receive television exposure that they ordinarily wouldn’t have in 1986. That could lead to even more income through sponsorship agreements.
Often, television exposure also leads to increased interest in the sport. Donahue said it is no coincidence that the enrollment in gymnastics schools throughout the country multiplied several fold after ABC introduced the country to Olga Korbut, Nadia Comaneci and Mary Lou Retton during Olympic competition.
“We have seen considerable benefits from the Olympics,” said Dr. Peter Buehning, president of the U.S. Team Handball Federation. “We hope to get a lot of media exposure from the Goodwill Games. It’s going to be important in the development of the sport.”
Also, most national governing board officials see the Goodwill Games as an additional opportunity to expose athletes in their sports to international competition. Eight of the federations will use the competition in Moscow to prepare for world competition in their sports later this year. The women’s basketball team has its world tournament from Aug. 8-17 in the Soviet Union.
“It’s a major competition right now, even if it is a first,” said Bob Dellinger, a spokesman for U.S.A. Wrestling. “It may fall flat on its face, but I don’t think it will. I don’t see how it can when all the best teams in the world are there.”
One criticism of the Goodwill Games concerns the athletes who aren’t going there. Twelve sports that will be included in the 1988 Summer Olympics, among them two demonstration sports, were excluded from the Goodwill Games in negotiations between Turner and the Soviets.
Wussler said that Soviet officials rejected some of the sports, such as synchronized swimming, because the Soviets aren’t competitive, and that Turner rejected other sports because they aren’t marketable on television.
“Our sport needs the money more than most because we are in a developmental stage,” said Dong Ja Yang, a representative of the U.S. Taekwondo Union, which wasn’t invited to participate in Moscow. “This type of program make the rich more rich and the poor more poor.”
Another sport not invited is fencing, which is represented by Edgar Jay House on the USOC’s athletes advisory council.
“Everyone in fencing is feeling a sense of frustration,” he said. “I didn’t hear anything official, but I heard through the grapevine that fencing is not seen as popular enough.”
But as officials from some of the sports that were invited said, that’s show business.
“It’s basically a TV operation that’s funding it,” said Prouty of U.S. Cycling. “Turner’s not a philanthropist. He’s not a foundation. He doesn’t have a legal mandate to spread the wealth to everyone.
“I wouldn’t have had any complaints if we had been excluded. They’re putting up the money. As far as I’m concerned, it’s their ballgame. If the Olympic Committee was doing this, the feeling would be different.”
There is some sentiment that the USOC should be more involved, an issue that has created anything but good will.
From interviews with various USOC officials, it is apparent that they believe there is only so much revenue that can be generated for amateur athletics through corporate sponsorships.
As a result, they believe that the more sponsors Turner attracts for the Goodwill Games, the fewer there will be for the USOC’s Olympic effort.
Also, the USOC sponsors the U.S. Olympic Festival, formerly the National Sports Festival, which will be held in Houston from July 25-Aug. 3 and televised by ESPN.
USOC officials are concerned that advertisers who spend their money with WTBS for the Goodwill Games will not buy time for the Sports Festival on ESPN. Eventually, that could result in the devaluation of the USOC’s television rights fees for the Sports Festival.
Aside from financial considerations, some USOC officials also believe it was an affront to their authority for Turner to enlist TAC as the organizer for the Goodwill Games.
“It would have taken months if we had gone to the USOC,” Wussler said. “They would have had to appoint committees and have meetings. I knew Ollan Cassell would give us a fast yes or no. If he’d said no, I don’t know what we would have done.”
Even some USOC officials admit that no one other than Cassell could have gotten the Americans and Soviets together in so many different sports in such a short period of time.
“Ollan is the best contact in the United States to negotiate sports programs with the Soviets,” said Essick of U.S. Swimming. “He has the most experience. He knows the protocol.”
Nevertheless, a former USOC president, Robert Kane, argues that the Amateur Sports Act of 1978 gives the Olympic Committee the sole right to organize international multisport competition involving U.S. teams.
Of TAC’s role in the Goodwill Games, Kane said: “It’s an abuse of the law. We fought hard to get that amateur sports act. But now it’s being compromised, not by an outside force but by an inside force.”
TAC officials interpret the law differently.
“If you open up the federal statutes, you’ll see that the law gives the USOC responsibility for sending teams to the Olympics and the Pan American Games,” TAC spokesman Pete Cava said. “It does not give them control over all multination, multisports events.
“If the USOC wants to think that it does, that’s their problem. There’s nothing they can do about it.”
One USOC official, who asked to remain unidentified, said that the Olympic Committee had more control over the individual federations until after the 1984 Olympics, when Col. F. Don Miller retired as the USOC’s secretary general. He was replaced by Gen. George Miller, who has not yet gained the political clout of his predecessor.
“A vacuum was created when Col. Miller left,” the official said. “All the national governing bodies saw an opportunity to divide the power.”
Essick described the dispute as “a federal government vs. states’ rights analogy.”
But Prouty sees it in more Machiavellian terms.
“The law doesn’t seem to favor either side,” he said. “It could be that might makes right, whoever can get away it. TAC is getting away with it.”
That was assured for at least this summer at the USOC Executive Board meetings in Salt Lake City last month, when Helmick said, “The Goodwill Games will not be part of the Olympic program, but we will be happy to be of assistance.”
Helmick, formerly the chairman of U.S. Water Polo, pointed out that the United States has sent teams to other international multisport competitions, such as the World University Games and Maccabiah Games, without USOC supervision. Cassell organized U.S. participation in the Soviet Union’s 1979 Sports Festival, Spartakiade.
But although it appeared in Salt Lake City that TAC had an ally in Helmick, his relationship with Turner deteriorated after the TBS president’s derogatory comments concerning the last two Summer Olympic Games were quoted in USA Today.
The fight for turf no doubt will continue after the 1988 Summer Olympics, when attention will be focused on the 1990 Goodwill Games.
Turner announced last week that Worldwide Sports & Entertainment, Inc., a Marina Del Rey marketing company, has been retained to survey the cities that are bidding to host the 1990 Goodwill Games.
The finalists are Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle and Los Angeles.
“When I was speaking to a Soviet sports minister about this, he was very excited,” U.S. Boxing’s Hull said. “He liked the idea that American athletes would come to Moscow. He would like to see it come to Los Angeles in 1990. He said it would be a way to heal the wounds.”
If the Soviets and Americans can achieve detente by then, perhaps so can Turner and the USOC.