Jack TenneyExtra Point

by Jack Tenney, Publisher

February 1999

Peter Ueberroth

I wonder how Peter Ueberroth would handle the Olympic mess.

I met Peter in February 1982 just before he became a boardroom name for his organizing talents. Like many incredibly successful people, he created quite a bit out of not too much by looking at an old problem from a slightly different angle. Later, he would be a Time magazine man of the year, a baseball commissioner and the hottest non-runner in a presidential race since Douglas MacArthur.

For whatever its worth, MacArthur's political career was ruined by a typo. A brilliant man with a flair for the dramatic, Mac got the sack from Truman at the height of the Korean conflict. The general who vowed to return to the Philippines and did and had the pictures to prove it wanted to nuke the enemy, especially north of the Yalu River. Truman didn't want to. MacArthur had accepted the surrender of the Japanese to end W.W.II and had engineered the brilliant Inchon landing to turn the tide of the Korean police action. Who died and left Truman boss? seemed to be the question of the moment. FDR!, of course, was the answer. Round 1 to Truman.

MacArthur was invited to speak to a joint session of Congress upon his return. The reason everyone remembers 20 bumper stickers to the point that Old blanks never die, they just blank blank and not President MacArthur is because Bennett Cerf poked fun at the great man recalling a news report that described MacArthur as tall, dark and uninformed. And, thus, did the old soldier just fade away.

So what was Ueberroth's contribution to Olympic competition?

Competition!

As he explained to a handful of people at a seminar on public relations, keep the message simple and on target. Leverage the message with a memorable headline. Do not whine. Make someone else appear to whine. No matter what, make more money.

To illustrate his message, he told how the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic folks (basically, him) handled the bad press that accompanied the naming of Fuji as its Official Film.

The point of the bad press was that Eastman Kodak, a great American company, had expressed its willingness and interest in sponsoring the Olympics but the grubby guys from L.A. only wanted to talk money.

The point was well made and, of course, true.

Rather than allow Kodak to be the Official Film of the Los Angeles Olympics, Ueberroth got Fuji to ante up millions more. When Kodak complained and the bad press commenced, Ueberroth put out a story explaining the process of how sponsors were selected. Pretty dry stuff until he headlined the press release How Kodak lost the Olympics.

It was about money. Kodak was told that but chose not to pay the price. Fuji was willing to pay the price. Simple. Kodak lost and then whined.

More important, Ueberroth won big. The Los Angeles Olympics not only didn't lose money, it made a ton. No longer was an Olympic venue thought of merely as a cause worthy of support but as an economic opportunity.

When you think of all the bad press associated with the Olympics prior to 1982 you wonder how even a sharp guy like Peter U. could see the line. Remember Jim Thorpe; Adolph Hitler; Munich massacre; Mexico City flag dissing; the CCCP basketball miracle of the replay; the Carter boycott? Salt Lake, too, will pass. I hope.