Major growth opportunity abrahamson

May 13, 2012, 11:49 p.m. (ET)

DALLAS -- Five years ago, the United States Olympic Committee raised less money in major gifts than the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, its sort-of neighbor in Colorado Springs, Colo.

For fiscal year 2007, the USOC raised less than $1 million in major gifts. In a word: pathetic.

For fiscal 2011, under the direction of chief development officer Janine Alfano Musholt, the USOC raised a net total of $10 million in gifts of more than $1,000. In two words: major progress.

In a wide-ranging news conference here Sunday at the traditional media summit in advance of the Olympic Games, USOC leaders said that they hoped American athletes would win the medal count this summer in London and that progress is being made in their ongoing revenue dispute with the International Olympic Committee.

But the most intriguing thing that was said -- and which relates directly to the medal count at any Olympic Games and ultimately could prove the secret to any new Olympic revenue model in the United States -- relates to the USOC's development campaign.

It's a potential game-changer.

As USOC chief executive Scott Blackmun reminded everyone, the focus at the leadership level is "to generate resources." With that comes the ability to do all the other stuff the American public not only wants but expects -- like, for instance, win the medal count.

Of course, the ground rule, spelled out in a 1978 law enacted by Congress, is that the USOC must be privately funded.

This is what makes the USOC different from every other national Olympic committee in the world. In the rest of the world the Olympic committee is an arm of its government.

For emphasis: the USOC must raise every penny it spends.

To grossly simplify, the USOC largely depends on television and sponsor money.

The crux of the dispute with the IOC is that the USOC gets a special cut of the NBC and sponsor deals that no other NOC gets. The USOC gets 12.75 of the NBC money, $4.38 billion from 2014 through 2020, and 20 percent of the IOC's top-tier sponsor deals.

From the perspective of the rest of the world -- it makes sense that everyone else might be upset. Why should the USOC get special treatment?

From the USOC"s perspective -- it makes sense that the USOC is super-protective of its share. Everyone else is getting funds from their federal governments. The USOC isn't. What is the USOC supposed to do? Cut back? And let Russia and China roll over the American team?

It's not as if the USOC is in position to ask the federal government for money, either. For one, it's not the American way. For another, as Blackmun observed, "It's hard for us to make a case that we should receive government support when we have won the [overall] medal count at every Summer Olympic Games since Barcelona [in 1992] and won the medal count at Vancouver," a reference to the 2010 Winter Games.

As it is, it's something of a miracle that the U.S. teams do as well as they do. The USOC's annual budget is roughly $150 million, about the same as Ohio State spends on its athletic department.

Which is where the notion of an enhanced development campaign comes in.

Everyone knows football drives sports programs at Division I universities.

The amount of money that can get thrown around those programs is, in a word, obscene.

Just to take one example:

In 2003, Lewis Field at Oklahoma State was renamed Boone Pickens Stadium after alum and oilman T. Boone Pickens donated $70 million. That gift, $20 million of which was earmarked for stadium expansion, according to the OSU website, generated $100 million in gifts and pledges. In 2006, Pickens donated an astonishing $165 million more.

The stadium was re-dedicated in 2009. They set an attendance record there last fall. The OSU football team played in a BCS bowl game in January, the Fiesta Bowl, and won, beating Stanford and Andrew Luck, who would go on to be the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft.

That's called success breeding upon success.

Why can't the USOC replicate that kind of success?

If there are boosters willing to do that kind of thing for dear ol' alma mater -- why won't someone stand up and do that for the red, white and blue?

Because no one had ever really thought about it.

Which is crazy.

Why, in particular?

Because, as Musholt said, "We could change the way the movement is funded in the United States, in a good way."

About two or three weeks ago, about half the members of the USOC board of directors got together in Denver to talk about this very thing.

"When we talked longer-term, we talked orders of magnitude different than what we are talking now," USOC board chairman Larry Probst said.

Just to be imaginative, why couldn't 20 or 100 really rich people contribute fractional shares toward USOC financing?

Why couldn't life insurance policies or annuities be contributed? They do that in college development offices all the time.

This particular revenue stream is so obvious. It's just sitting there, practically begging to be tapped.

It is, as Blackmun called it, the USOC's "major growth opportunity."

 

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