USOC's "stewardship": how you do it

It's a fact that the U.S. Olympic team won the overall medals count at both the 2012 London Games, with 104, and 2010 Vancouver Games, with 37. There is no federal sports ministry in the United States. Unlike virtually every other country in the world, the U.S. Olympic team is on its own. Congress set it up that way, in 1978. It said the USOC would have to raise all its own money. Then the USOC figures how to best dole it out.

A USOC report made public Tuesday underscores the keys to the Vancouver and London success: revenues and program spending are up, direct support to athletes increasingly significant and administrative expenses accounted for a mere eight percent of the budget.

The document, entitled "Stewardship Report," compiles a series of facts and figures available in other USOC materials -- say, for instance, multiple years of USOC tax filings -- and neatly wraps them into a colorful 24-page brochure.

U.S. diver David Boudia celebrates his gold-medal platform win in London // photo Getty Images

As USOC spokesman Patrick Sandusky said, "It's a way for us to continue to tell our story."

There's humility in calling it a "Stewardship Report," of course. That theme is consistent with the leadership of chief executive Scott Blackmun and board chairman Larry Probst, who have stressed the so-called Olympic values and organizational goals over any cult of personality.

In its graphs and bar charts, all markedly filled with upward trends, the report also highlights the stability and international outreach efforts that Blackmun and Probst have brought to the USOC, including the resolution last year of a longstanding revenue dispute with the International Olympic Committee over certain television and marketing rights.

That has opened the door to a potential 2024 Summer or 2026 Winter Games bid from the United States, most likely 2024.

It must be noted that the USOC issued this report for its own reasons: it's essentially a one-stop document.

And though the USOC certainly did not intend to raise this question, it's only reasonable: one might wonder why, when there has been so much focus on the USOC from so many quarters over so many years, a considerable amount of that focus critical, some of that criticism on the mark but some of it fantastically misguided, other national Olympic committees aren't, in the interest of transparency, producing the same or a similar report?

Why nothing like it from, say, Germany? France? Britain? Better yet, Russia? Or China?

Indeed, why isn't it best-practice that every Olympic committee, or at least every national Olympic committee of consequence of the more than 200 worldwide, not only be obliged to produce such a report but also -- just like the USOC -- make it public?

In Olympic jargon, a four-year cycle is called a quadrennium, or quad. Over the 2009-12 quad, USOC revenues totaled $733 million, against expenditures of $675 million.

Administrative costs: $53 million, or eight percent.

Nearly $568 million, or 84 percent, went to U.S. athletes and national governing bodies through direct support and programming, according to the report.

Of that roughly $568 million, $218 million, or about 38 percent, was direct support -- meaning cash grants or benefits such as health insurance, medical services or tuition.

Another $274 million, about 48 percent, went for what the USOC calls "sport programming" -- high-performance support programs as well as funding for its Paralympic efforts and three training centers. Those centers are located in Colorado Springs, Colo.; Chula Vista, Calif.; and Lake Placid, N.Y.

The balance, $76 million, roughly 13 percent, was spent on programs such as international relations, communications and other initiatives.

The report notes that direct athlete funding nearly doubled over the 2009-12 quad, to $71.3 million, from the 2001-04 quad, when it was $38.2 million. Support to national governing bodies, which had been $144.7 million in the 2001-04 quad, dipped to $134.7 million in 05-08 but climbed back to $146.3 million in 09-12.

Obviously, this funding produced results in Vancouver and London. It also has drawn critics. Here's why:

The USOC now divides sports into three categories -- foundation, medal-opportunity and development.

"Foundation" sports are those such as track and field, swimming and skiing. These sports are defined as those with a tradition of winning multiple medals; they have a strong sports infrastructure and a development pipeline.

If you are an athlete in one of these sports, as the report notes, "direct support is strategically allocated to give the number of American athletes the opportunity to reach the podium."

In London, the swim team won 31 medals, the track team 29. In Vancouver, the ski team won 21 of the 37.

"Medal-opportunity" sports are those such as diving, archery and boxing. In London, all three came up big -- diving for sure, including David Boudia's platform gold, and even boxing, in which U.S. women won medals. In Sochi next February, biathlon has been targeted as a medal opportunity even though the U.S. has never won an Olympic medal in the sport; Tim Burke of Paul Smiths, N.Y., won a silver in the 20-kilometer individual event at the 2013 world championships.

Then there are the "development" sports, which for now include the likes of canoe/kayak, weightlifting and table tennis. As the report notes, sports "with strong track records and international success receive a higher proportion of the available funds (75 percent in the 2009-2012 quadrennium). The more that U.S. athletes earn medals, the more resources the USOC is able to generate."

Which of course begs the question: if you don't have the money to win in ping-pong, how are you supposed to win in ping-pong to beat the Chinese, so you can get more money from the USOC to win in ping-pong?

Switching gears, the report notes the obvious revenue point -- that broadcast rights make up the largest chunk, 37 percent, $272 million, of the $733 million.

Domestic sponsors and licensed merchandise come next, at $183 million, 25 percent.

Worldwide sponsors rank third, at $124 million, 17 percent, with everything else in single-digit percentages.

What's also abundantly clear is the largely untapped revenue stream that awaits the USOC, if it could ever figure out how -- major gifts account for a mere 4 percent, just $32 million.

A Sports Business Journal report Monday said the USOC plans to create a new foundation with the aim of raising $35 million in the coming years, Blackmun saying in the story he intends to spend half his time this year on the effort.

Building the foundation and identifying a potential 2024 bid city are his two top priorities, Blackmun also said in that story.