The USOC's summer fund-raising campaign

Not that I'm going to need therapy or anything about this but as of the time I started writing this column, according to the up-to-the-instant numbers on the left-hand side of the page on Facebook, 847,026 people "liked" the "US Olympic Team." That's way, way, way more friends than I have.

Okay, I'll admit it. I'm jealous.

Traditionally, it would be oh-so-easy for a sportswriter like me -- college in the late 1970s, first real job at an afternoon newspaper, schooled in the church-state separation of the business and editorial sides -- to make light of an "engagement" campaign like the one the U.S. Olympic Committee announced Thursday.

That campaign, among other efforts, features a number of Facebook-related initiatives.

This, though, is not one of those "make-fun of the USOC for its marketing efforts" columns.

Indeed, it's just the opposite.

Let's face facts.

The USOC, by virtue of the 1978 federal law that chartered it, has to find its own sources of funding. In contrast to virtually every other national Olympic committee in the world, which is supported by its own federal government, the USOC has to be resourceful.

The essential dilemma of the Olympics in the United States is elemental. The Games are on for 17 days every two years. How is the Olympic committee supposed to keep itself in the spotlight the rest of the time?

Anyone notice that the NBA Finals are on? That they're playing major-league baseball pretty much every day?

The Olympic committee simply has to be out there, too. It has to get attention. The London Games, after all, are still a year away. (Opening ceremony: July 27, 2012.)

It's not an easy thing the USOC has to do. On the one hand, it has to remain mindful of certain Olympic traditions. On the other, it must also continually keep re-inventing itself. It must remain relevant.

That's why the USOC is doing the smart and sophisticated thing with its Thursday announcement about its "Join Team USA" program, which formally kicks off June 14, Flag Day, and includes Independence Day, July 4, and runs through July 31.

Let's be clear. What the USOC is trying to do is drive fund-raising.

Here's how:

-- You'll doubtlessly see a public-service announcement, edited by NBC, as well as print and digital advertisements featuring the likes of swimmer Natalie Coughlin, runner Allyson Felix, gymnast (and dancer) Shawn Johnson, basketball player Lisa Leslie, fencer Tim Morehouse and Marlon Shirley, a Paralympic track and field champion.

You'll doubtlessly see it because it's going to air on more than 400 stations across the nation.

-- "Join Team USA" will be featured at events such as USA Badminton and USA Bowling youth summer events; the USA Boxing nationals; the USA Diving summer nationals; USA Judo's Junior Olympics and President's Cup; USA Volleyball Junior Olympics events; and the USA Wrestling junior national championships.

-- A number of Olympic and Paralympic stars and hopefuls are scheduled to make promotional appearances. For instance: on June 14, Diana, Mark and Steven Lopez -- the taekwondo standouts from Sugarland, Texas -- are due to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at a Houston Astros' game.

-- Sponsor plug: Anheuser-Busch events in Chicago on June 24-26; in Daytona, Fla. on July 2; and in St. Louis July 2-4 will center on the Olympic team.

-- From June 17-26, there will be more than 330 "Olympic Day" celebrations across the United States. Reality check: How many national Olympic committees put on more than even one "Olympic Day" event? We're talking 330-plus.

Hosts at all such Olympic Day events will be encouraged to posts photos and videos by using the hash-tag "#OlympicDay" on Twitter. Further coverage will be available on that "US Olympic Team" Facebook page.

And therein lies the real intrigue: how to really spread the buzz online?

What everyone -- including if not especially the USOC -- is trying to figure out is how to make money online. (Sportswriters, too. But that's a separate column.)

For the first time, the USOC said in Thursday's release, you'll be able to chat online with Olympic and Paralympic athletes on the Facebook page. The first chat took place May 26, with 2010 bobsled gold medal winner Steve Holcomb; the next one takes place June 2 at 6 pm. Pacific time/9 p.m. Eastern with 2008 Games water polo silver medalist Tony Azevedo.

For the uninitiated, navigating to the right Facebook page can be an exercise in spellcheck patience. It has to be done precisely and thusly: "US Olympic Team." (Note: No periods between the U and S. Make sure the T in team is capitalized.)

Another Facebook initiative:

From Sept. 2-18, there's going to be a contest -- make a video of two minutes or less that describes why your program affiliated with the USOC should win -- that will end up giving out six $12,000 grants; voting for the contest is going to be through the Facebook page; votes enter fans into a drawing for Olympic gear.

Look, maybe some of this stuff works. Maybe some of it doesn't. That's the nature of trying stuff.

In the meantime, consider this: While I was writing and then editing this column, the number of people who "like"  the "US Olympic Team"  went up to 849,368.

Just for comparison: I had the privilege of being a staff writer at the Los Angeles Times for 17 years, until 2006. For the six months ending March 31, daily circulation at the paper fell to 605,243 from 616,604 a year ago, down 1.8 percent, the Times reported in a May 3 story.

You do the math. Let's all catch up together on Facebook.