Easy come, easy go is the rule for TV-generated Games revenues

The resulting revenues are huge, and still growing. The Olympics marketing program focuses primarily on broadcasting and secondarily on corporate sponsorship (50 percent versus 40 percent; ticketing and licensing make up the rest). Games broadcasting revenues have shot up from just $21 million in 1980 (Lake Placid Winter Games) to $403 million at Seoul in 1988, $1.3 billion at Sydney, and nearly $1.5 billion for the Athens Games. The Sydney organizing committee and the IOC generated some $3 billion from all sources during 1997-2000. The 2002 Salt Lake organizing committee received over $570 million. Athens 2004 will get close to 1 billion dollars from collective broadcasting rights and worldwide sponsorship, roughly 60 percent of its total operating budget. The rest will come from local sponsorship, ticketing, and licensing, with the government kicking in less than a fifth. No wonder the organizers can afford to pick fights with the government if they need (or want) to; their main paymaster is not the Greek State but the IOC and rights-holding broadcasters. Another beneficiary is future Olympics planning itself. With income guaranteed long-term, the Games no longer present such a blind crapshoot for bidding cities and countries. Other recipients of TV-generated Olympics income include national Olympic committees, through the «Olympic Solidarity» arm of the IOC for developing sports in poorer countries; international sports federations (which now depend heavily on the IOC for advancing the sports under their aegis); and other worthy organizations and causes like the Paralympics and the World Anti-Doping Agency. The 2004 organizers have already opened the Athens Olympic Broadcasting Agency (in May), which will coordinate world broadcasting from the International Broadcast Center near the Olympics complex, currently a building site full of imposing steel beams but destined to be the world’s media center in August 2004. And as for the televised effort in Greece, state-run ERT will have sole rights to the broadcasts, coming on ET-1, NET, and probably also ET3 TV channels, with private channels providing technical feeds but getting none of the glory. ERT’s coverage from Sydney, half a world away, totaled 798 hours; and that was just a tune-up for Athens. No wonder Athenians will, after all, largely stay home for the Games. They will likely take in an event or two in person, and the rest of the time put their feet up at home, break out the beer and chips, and enjoy it all on TV. Bad as television can be, for the Olympics, it is still the best, and cheapest, place in town.