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Lengthy deal, less money for new USOC boss sends right message to IOC

Scott

Scott Blackmun met Jacques Rogge in 2001, when Blackmun was the acting chief executive of the U.S. Olympic Committee, and the International Olympic Committee president was touring the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.

That encounter was so brief that the next meeting between the two, which should take place at the Vancouver Olympics, will essentially be the chance for Blackmun to introduce himself to Rogge  --  especially now that Blackmun's USOC title is permanent CEO.

That meeting must set the tone for the USOC to improve its fractious relations with the IOC. As the old saw goes, you get only one chance to make a first impression.

It is just as critical that not only the impression Blackmun leaves but also the relationship he creates with the IOC is lasting. IOC members and USOC officials cited the constant turnover in USOC leadership as a factor in the humiliating defeats for New York (2012) and Chicago (2016) in their Olympic bids. It's a case of not being able to build trust with people you barely know.

So it is important that Blackmun has been given a four-year contract as he starts his second tenure with the USOC on Jan. 26. That means he will be CEO not only for the final 3 1/2 years of Rogge's second (and final) term as IOC president but for at least the beginning of the next IOC president's tenure.

Blackmun, 52, also could be inclined to meet one of the parameters USOC chairman Larry Probst set in the job description: a person who would like to stay in the job 10 years or more.  The father of three (one a sophomore at DePaul) left a top job with Anschutz Entertainment Group in Los Angeles to return to Colorado Springs as an attorney partly because he really likes living there.   

The IOC already is pleased the USOC has given its top staff position to an Olympic movement veteran after having put three clueless corporate veterans in the position during the past decade.

"Our relationship is a key one for the future of the Games, and having an experienced operator in the post is clearly to be welcomed,'' IOC communications director Mark Adams said in an e-mail.

The IOC may also like the idea that Blackmun's annual starting salary is $100,000 less than the $550,000 the USOC coughed up for Stephanie Streeter, who moved from the USOC board to CEO when the board ousted Jim Scherr last March. An IOC member told me after the 2016 vote that no one could understand how the USOC dared pay Streeter that kind of money -- 30% more than Scherr's base -- given her lack of Olympic-related experience and a global financial crisis that led the USOC to cut 13% of its staff in May.

"I'm not here primarily because of the compensation,'' Blackmun told me by telephone after a Wednesday press conference.  "I never made the comparison.''

(An aside: No matter what shortcomings Scherr had, he had brought six years of stability to a position turning over with every lunar cycle, and he had improved staff morale; the decision to dump him less than a month before the IOC 2016 bid evaluation commission visited Chicago was indefensible, only adding to the idea the USOC always would be a dysfunctional Team Turmoil.)

On the international relations front, there are three main issues:

*Building trust and relationships.

*Resolving the longstanding dispute over the percentages the USOC receives from the U.S. television rights fee and the IOC's global sponsorship revenues.

*Finding a way to create some form of U.S. Olympic network that does not antagonize either the IOC or NBC, which the IOC considers the Olympic network in the United States.

Underlying the last two are issues of revenue generation by making USOC sponsorship a better deal for companies that buy in.

"We can begin the international relations piece immediately, but we won't see results of that until we've earned our chops,''  Blackmun said.  "In terms of revenue, we have to look ahead and find added value for our sponsors.  We don't have traditional opportunities like (arena) signage.  A broadcast network would be one way to do that.''

Uncertainties related to the future of U.S. Olympic TV rights -- bidding has not begun for the Games after 2012 -- and the impact of Comcast's purchase of NBC should mean the USOC does not need to make a decision soon on the network.

"It's a complicated issue,'' Blackmun said.

Comcast is the USOC's partner in the U.S. Olympic Network, which may have already died aborning.  After announcing its planned launch in July, the USOC put its tail between its legs six weeks later and delayed it indefinitely in a vain attempt to appease the IOC, which was protecting NBC, which was angry the USOC did not enter into a partnership with Universal Sports, the NBC-owned network with programming content that features Olympic-related programming. (Got that?)

If NBC re-ups as an Olympic TV rights-holder as part of Comcast, it seems highly unlikely Comcast will want to be part of a competing U.S. Olympic Network.  Once again -- as it has always been -- a partnership with Universal Sports is the best network option for the USOC.

But when I asked Blackmun if that meant he could afford to be in no hurry to determine whether the U.S. Olympic Network would be launched, he disagreed.

"I wouldn't want to say there is no rush,'' Blackmun said.  "It is a priority for us to find added value for sponsors.''

It also is a priority for Blackmun to create an effective international relations department.  Bob Ctvrtlik, who was the USOC vice president for international relations, left that position soon after taking a paid job with Chicago 2016 last winter. Robert Fasulo, the international relations director, remains in his job.

The feeling within Chicago 2016 after its first-round exit in the IOC vote was that Ctvrtlik and Fasulo did a poor job of locking in commitments. It is likely that President Obama decided to go to Copenhagen to pitch Chicago in the final presentations to the IOC based in part on what apparently was rose-colored information about levels of support that was provided by Ctvrtlik, Fasulo and other international consultants working for the bid.

Blackmun said he would not comment on personnel matters and that staff issues were not one of his primary concerns.

"I don't come at this with a view to making changes,'' he said.  "I come at this with a view to be excellent.  Sometimes you need to make changes to be excellent, but if I listed the top 10 things we need to address, replacing staff would not be on my list.''

Blackmun is off to a vacation on the big island of Hawaii before taking over at the USOC. That would be among the top 10 things on anyone's to-do list.

-- Philip Hersh

Scott Blackmun at USOC headquarters Wednesday.  (AP / Ed Andrieski)

 
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