USOC finances: stability rules

The U.S. Olympic Committee was a lot more fun, reporting-wise, when it was embroiled in chronic turmoil. For many years, the USOC could be counted on to be the sports writing version of the Soap Opera Full Employment Saga.

Oh, for the days gone by when there would be hastily arranged meetings of the USOC at, say, the O’Hare Hilton or the Antlers in Colorado Springs and the chief executive would be sending looks of love (not) to the assembled scribes.

Those tender feelings washed over me yet anew Friday while reading the USOC’s tax return, which is called a Form 990, for 2011.

The U.S. government makes the USOC file the Form 990 once a year, of course. It is made publicly available each May.

This year’s version, like last year’s, underscores the fundamental point about the USOC as it is now:

It is, thanks to board chairman Larry Probst and chief executive Scott Blackmun, stable.

From a management viewpoint, stable is really, really good.

From a journalism standpoint — stable is really, really boring.

Just kidding — stable is excellent.

Here’s what the Form 990 says, and for the USOC to be able achieve these results in a down economy is testament to the way Probst and Blackmun have been steering the ship, and the culture they have created, which in the 14 years I have been covering the Olympic movement, and in particular the USOC, is distinct, and I mean that in the most connotatively positive way:

Revenue (page 9): $140.7 million.

That’s down from $250.6 million in 2010. What?!

No need to freak out. This is the way the Olympic cycle works. Broadcast revenue is recorded only in a Games year, and in 2010 the Winter Games went to Vancouver.

Expenses: (page 10) $185 million, down from $191 million.

Note: that’s $6 million less in expenses than the year before.

Again, over a four-year cycle, the revenue and expense sides tend to even themselves out.

Blackmun’s compensation package (page 7) totaled $742,367, higher than the year before because he didn’t work a full year in 2010 and wasn’t eligible that year for a bonus; moreover, his 2011 number also includes a long-term performance bonus that has to be counted for tax rules even though Blackmun hasn’t been paid it yet. If it  does get paid to him at all, it will be in 2014 and then doubly counted in that Form 990 but in a different line item — tax forms always an accountant’s dream and a journalist’s nightmare.

Before anyone jumps to criticize a long-term performance incentive, think about the instability of the CEO position and what that has cost the USOC over the past several years, in sheer salary dollars and reputation.

Unlike many other years, the USOC reported one — only one — person in the chief executive’s position. How boring. It’s like people enjoy working there.

Former chief operating officer Norm Bellingham’s compensation package (page 8) was reported out at $655,219. His compensation, salary part of the year, was moved to a consultant’s role, as he worked on high-performance planning and funding and other strategic projects, typically with Blackmun. Note: 2011 was his final year with the USOC.

In another area: the USOC’s top five contractors include four direct-mail vendors and one hospitality company (page 8). That’s in line with previous non-Games years.

Also: Schedule I, toward the back of the form, detaIls the amounts the USOC pays out to, among others, the national governing bodies. US Ski & Snowboard got the most in 2011, $3.45 million. USA Track & Field got $2.7 million, US Speedskating $2.5 million and USA Swimming $2.49 million.

In just a few weeks, American athletes will compete at the London Summer Games. There it is expected that they will vie with the Chinese and the Russians for supremacy in the medal count.

The USOC is locked in a messy and longstanding dispute with the International Olympic Committee over the USOC’s shares of certain broadcasting and marketing revenues.

There are many things the USOC does imperfectly. But to its credit, it is transparent about its financial details.

Feel free to argue that it is transparent because the U.S. government makes it be so. But — every spring we know what the USOC is up to, and who gets paid what, and how much it is spending on what, and anyone anywhere in the world can make judgments about whether all of that is in the public interest.

As we head toward London, don’t you wish the same could be said of our friends at the Russian and Chinese Olympic Committees? Indeed, of all the national Olympic committees in the rest of the world?

Indeed, of the IOC?

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One thought on “USOC finances: stability rules

  1. Interesting article but where is the link to the 2011 990 IRS form? Looked for it online but could only find 2010 990 form.

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