Jim Easton

LA 2024's new bid team, many rivers to cross


EUGENE, Oregon -- When the four American cities still in the would-be race for the 2024 Summer Olympics head to Colorado Springs, Colorado, for a U.S. Olympic Committee workshop later this week, the Los Angeles bid will have a new face. Casey Wasserman, 40, one of Southern California’s leading businessmen, has over the past few weeks quietly — in keeping with his style — assumed leadership of the bid.

Wasserman’s arrival onto the public Olympic stage, in tandem with 43-year-old Mayor Eric Garcetti, is a strong signal on many levels, the emergence of a new generation of Los Angeles leadership that for 2024 could bring new energy and new thinking, one that can obviously pay homage to the power of the 1984 Games but would no longer be beholden to them.

The mayor, who is fluent in Spanish, keeps a 1984 torch in his downtown office.

Casey Wasserman // photo courtesy Wasserman Media Group

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti // photo courtesy office of the mayor

At the same time, this must be emphasized: strong signals guarantee no one and no city anything.

San Francisco, Boston and Washington already had strong business leaders aligned with their bids, San Francisco with Giants president and chief executive officer Larry Baer, Boston with construction magnate John Fish, Washington with financier and philanthropist Russ Ramsey.

Moreover, it’s far from clear the USOC is even going to launch an American bid.

USOC chairman Larry Probst and chief executive Scott Blackmun have said many times they are on a holding pattern through 2014, waiting until the International Olympic Committee and president Thomas Bach complete their review and potentially far-reaching reform process, dubbed "Olympic Agenda 2020."

An all-members IOC assembly has been called for Monaco in early December. The USOC is due to make a 2024 go-or-no-go decision in early 2015. The IOC will pick a 2024 city in 2017.

The list of potential international contenders is fluid, indeed. Paris, Berlin, Doha and others routinely surface on most rumor lists.

Making matters more complicated for Los Angeles, everyone tied to the USOC process is well aware that LA played host to the 1932 and 1984 Summer Games and, moreover, that Anita DeFrantz is the senior IOC member to the United States, with offices at the LA 84 Foundation, just west of the University of Southern California, and that Jim Easton, another IOC member, has a place near UCLA. Their IOC membership makes them USOC board members as well.

Thus, the USOC has gone out of its way — as board minutes make explicitly clear — to kick DeFrantz and Easton out of the room whenever 2024 discussions come up.

Los Angeles sought the 2016 Games, losing out to Chicago, which of course ended up coming up way short in October, 2009, to Rio de Janeiro.

The USOC stayed out of the 2020 contest, which went last September to Tokyo, Probst and Blackmun intent on building relationships rather than running through another expensive bid cycle.

Recent LA Olympic strategies have been overseen by Barry Sanders, now a retired lawyer who since 2002 has been chairman of what is called the Southern California Committee for the Olympic Games.

In Los Angeles, the figurative passing of the torch, if you will, could hardly seem more symbolic: Wasserman is off Thursday to Colorado even as final preparations are being made for a party next Monday, at the stately LA 84 Foundation grounds, to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the 1984 Games. Peter Ueberroth, who ran those LA Games and then served as USOC chairman from 2004 to 2008, which included the 2005 campaign that saw New York bid, losing to London for the 2012 Games, is expected at the party.

Ueberroth, since stepping down from the USOC post, has discretely stayed out of the Olympic spotlight.

Meanwhile, in the fabric of civic life in Los Angeles, there is always a connection to be found to the Olympics and to 1984.

For Wasserman, the connections are many and layered. He has been powerfully tied his entire life to the city, business, the media, sports and the Olympic scene. Everyone in Los Angeles who mattered, it seemed, knew Casey’s grandfather, Lew, of MCA fame; one of Lew’s closest friends was Paul Ziffren, one of the big-time lawyers in town who helped bring the 1984 Games to LA; Casey is married to Paul’s granddaughter.

Casey Wasserman is chairman and chief executive of Wasserman Media Group, the company he founded 12 years ago. Its now-global practice ranges across fields as diverse as athlete management, corporate consulting, sponsorships, media rights and corporate consulting.

As just one example of the company’s got-done list: in 2011, it brokered naming rights to MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, site of the 2014 Super Bowl, in a 25-year arrangement for a reported $400 million, among the biggest stadium-rights deals in U.S. sports.

Wasserman is also president and CEO of an active private family charitable trust, the Wasserman Foundation; among other boards, he is also a trustee of the William J. Clinton Foundation.

In the Olympic sphere, relationships matter, and Wasserman’s Rolodex — to use a term that might have been more celebrated in 1984 — is formidable.

With disclosure of what was afoot in Los Angeles circulating this week among the in-the-know here in Eugene at the 2014 world juniors, speculation immediately ignited about the possibility of a track and field world championships -- 2021? 2023? -- at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

What, if anything, that might mean for Eugene's 2019 world championships bid -- it's up against Doha and Barcelona in a contest to be decided this fall -- is entirely uncertain.

Earlier this year, USA Track and Field announced LA would play host to the men's and women's U.S. marathon Trials for the 2016 U.S. Olympic team, on Feb. 13, 2016.

Of course, at this point all this is -- to reiterate -- sheer conjecture. To quote from the ballad the great Jimmy Cliff wrote in 1969: many rivers to cross.

"Casey Wasserman is one of our city's most creative and innovative business leaders, and he has built one of the world's leading sports companies here in LA because our city is the worldwide capital of the sports industry," Garcetti said. “And Casey is at the heart of thoughtful, focused philanthropy, determined to make our city even greater.

“It is only natural that Casey is my partner in leading LA's efforts to explore an American bid for the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games. I look forward to working closely with him."

For his part, Wasserman said, “The USOC is committed to putting forward the best of our U.S. cities, so it is a real privilege to join forces with Mayor Garcetti to steer Los Angeles’ bid for the 2024 Olympics and Paralympics. I hope our ideas, partnership and involvement can contribute to the committee’s greater mission.”

Probst up for IOC membership

LAUSANNE, Switzerland -- It's nearly four years ago now that Chicago got thumped when the International Olympic Committee voted for the 2016 Summer Games host city. For the U.S. Olympic Committee, that was, indisputably, the low point.

It's worth bearing in mind all the time and miles in between then and now amid Tuesday's announcement by the International Olympic Committee of the nomination of nine new members, U.S. Olympic Committee board chair Larry Probst among them.

Probst's membership is for sure a milestone. Over time, it's likely to means more influence for the United States within the IOC, and as the USOC is considering bids for future Games -- in particular, as soon as 2024 -- that could be key.

At the same time, the United States still has a long, long way to go in becoming a power player in the IOC along the lines of, say, Switzerland, with five members.

For now, what Probst's membership marks is, simply, yet another step in the USOC's effort at quiet diplomacy.

He  -- and the other new members - will be sworn in at the end of the all-members assembly in September in Buenos Aires. They will not, repeat not, take part in the voting there.

At that September session, the IOC will elect a new president, replacing Jacques Rogge, who has been in office since 2001, as well as pick the site of the 2020 Summer Games. Madrid, Tokyo and Istanbul are in the race. All three bid cities are making presentations here Wednesday in Lausanne to the full IOC. All six presidential candidates are likewise making presentations Thursday.

Four new athlete members, meanwhile, are due to be sworn in Wednesday. They were elected in voting from the London Games and will be eligible to vote in September.

When the nine new members are brought on board, assuming no other changes, that will bring the IOC membership to 113, spokesman Mark Adams said Tuesday.

Notable among the nine -- only one is from Asia, Mikaela Maria Antonia Cojuangco-Jaworski of the Philippines.

The list includes famed long-distance runner Paul Tergat of Kenya and Athens 2004 high-jump champion Stefan Holm of Sweden.

It also features the head of the Russian national Olympic committee, Alexander Zhukov. The next Winter Olympics, in February, will be held in Sochi.

Russia will then have four members.

The U.S., too -- when Probst is sworn in, the Americans will count him, Anita DeFrantz, Jim Easton and Angela Ruggiero.

Even so, the U.S. has for years lacked significant political influence within the IOC.

DeFrantz has been a member since 1986. She served on the policy-making executive board from 1992 to 2001. She has since run for office unsuccessfully; she is standing this September again for the board.

Easton has in recent years played a markedly reduced role.

Ruggiero is widely seen as an up-and-comer. At the same time, as an athlete member, she is already three years through her fixed term of eight years.

Thus Probst's entry is widely seen as an important step in bringing back a measure of American influence.

"The U.S. is a very strong and important partner of the IOC," Adams said at a briefing Tuesday at the IOC's Lake Geneva headquarters, the Chateau de Vidy. "Larry's nomination is a sign of that and a sign of continuing cooperation with the USOC."

For his part, Probst said in a statement released by the USOC, “I am truly honored to be nominated for membership in the IOC, and extremely grateful for the potential opportunity to serve the Olympic Movement."

Last year, the USOC and IOC resolved a longstanding dispute over certain television and marketing revenues. Probst's nomination is a reflection of that ongoing USOC-IOC "cooperation." It is by no means a quid pro quo for the deal.

Probst becomes the first USOC president -- as the jargon goes -- as IOC member since Sandy Baldwin. That's 11 years ago.

Bill Hybl served as USOC president and IOC member for two years, 2000-01.

Before that, you have to go back to Bob Helmick. He stepped down in 1991.

Again, Probst's entry is important. But it's just one step. It must be reiterated that the USOC has to be thinking in terms of the long run in assessing the political calculus of a Games bid.


There are 35 Olympic sports, summer and winter. The United States has no presidents among any of those 35 federations. It has one -- just one -- secretary general from among any of the 35, Svein Romstad, who runs the luge federation from, of all places, Atlanta.

Last year, American Doug Beal ran for the presidency of the international volleyball federation. The convention and election were held in Anaheim, Calif. Even so, he did not win.

The United States does, in fact, boast some international sports federation presidents. But they are not Olympic sports. They are in sports such as softball, surfing and cheerleading.

Then again, the situation now is better -- way better -- than in October, 2009, when Chicago got rocked.

U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati was elected in April to a four-year term to the FIFA executive committee.

USA Basketball chief executive Jim Tooley is in line to become FIBA Americas president for 2014-18.

Max Cobb, the USA Biathlon president and chief executive, heads the International Biathlon Union's technical committee.

These things, simply, take time.

This is what Probst came to understand in Copenhagen in October, 2009.

Before that, he did not totally understand how demanding the USOC board chairman's job was. Nor did he grasp fully how much time and how much travel it was going to take.

The next January, Scott Blackmun came on board as the USOC's chief executive.

Together, they vowed to repair the USOC's standing in international relations.

They said, privately and publicly, that relationship-building took time and effort. They said they were in it for the long haul.

Instead of sending staffers to meetings, Probst or Blackmun -- sometimes both -- started showing up.

Now, Probst and Blackmun serve on IOC committees. Probst is, as well, on the board of the Assn. of National Olympic Committees.

Blackmun, for that matter, is here in Lausanne for the second time in three weeks. He was here the first time for the ANOC assembly and is back now for an IOC marketing commission meeting.

It's active engagement. That's what it takes. That's what got Probst nominated Tuesday.

It's going to take more -- a lot more -- to win the United States an Olympic Games. Everyone should keep that in mind.

The USOC's slow, steady progress

ACAPULCO -- The fifth IOC World Conference on Women and Sport will be held in Los Angeles in February,  2012. The next International Athletes' Forum will take place in Colorado Springs, Colo., in October, 2011.

If you looked really, really hard in the "transactions" section of your local sports section, buried there in the agate type, you might have seen the announcement here Tuesday from the International Olympic Committee about both events.

Or not. Neither is Super Bowl Media Day, for sure.

But both, in their way, are big -- not just because they matter in Olympic circles but because they underscore the dawn of what could and should be a new era in the U.S. Olympic Committee's complicated relationship with the IOC.

A year after Chicago got trounced in the 2016 bid contest, the USOC -- under the direction of chairman Larry Probst and chief executive Scott Blackmun -- is, appropriately and responsibly, surely and deliberately, doing what needs to be done to develop and nurture the relationships that in the Olympic movement make things happen.

The awarding of the two conferences offers evidence of just that.

"I think that there is no issue about the Chicago elimination any more," IOC president Jacques Rogge said here at a news conference that wrapped up week-long meetings of the Assn. of National Olympic Committees and then the IOC's policy-making executive board.

"There might have been an emotional issue for some time. I think our American friends were very gracious in accepting the [2016] decision," Rogge said, adding a moment later that the events in Los Angeles and in Colorado Springs, where the USOC is headquartered, will be "very well-organized" and allow the IOC "to come back to a continent we have not been to very much."

That would be a gentle understatement.

By "continent" Rogge really means in this instance the United States, since of course the 2010 Games were in Canada.

The IOC was in Salt Lake City for the 2002 Games and then not again, at least formally, until March, 2009, at a meeting in Denver -- and at that Denver meeting some senior IOC officials took the opportunity to berate the USOC over longstanding disputes that revolve around the USOC's singular shares of IOC marketing and broadcasting revenues.

So -- here came the attacks even as the IOC was being hosted by an American city. That's how unpleasant it had become.

"The USOC is in much better shape now," a senior IOC member said here in Acapulco, speaking on condition of anonymity. "We really want to get them back into the mainstream."

The USOC, to be sure, still has a long way to go.

There hasn't been an American on the IOC board for nearly five years, and that doesn't look like it's going to change any time soon.

Moreover, compare these numbers: The United States has three IOC members. Italy has four. Switzerland has five.

"There is quiet talk around the bar about increasing the numbers of the U.S. members," the senior IOC figure also said. "Plus, there needs to be one really active member - especially if there's a bid."

Neither of the two senior U.S. IOC members -- Anita DeFrantz and Jim Easton -- has the disposition of, say, Brazil's Carlos Nuzman, a whirlwind of enthusiasm who helped deliver Rio the 2016 Games. The third U.S. member, Angela Ruggiero, was just elected earlier this year.

At any rate, there isn't now an American bid for the Games. It's quite possible there won't be one for several more years.

Even so, the USOC is indeed in much better shape. It's simple why:

First, Probst committed himself fully after the 2016 debacle to the chairmanship.

Second, he hired Blackmun.

In concert, they have spent a good part of 2010 traveling the world. This is a part of the Olympic game that officials from other places have long mastered; it matters to be seen.

Finally, the USOC and IOC came to terms this year on the first piece of the financial puzzle, an $18-million deal involving an agreed-upon American share of the administrative costs of staging the Olympics.

That sets the stage for negotiations over the broadcast and marketing shares -- at some point, unclear when. The USOC gets 20 percent of top-tier marketing fees and 12.75 percent of the U.S. broadcast fee, figures that some have called too high.

That "Games costs" deal also helps set the table for the 2011 negotiation over U.S. broadcast rights for the 2014 and 2016 Games. NBC has served as U.S. broadcaster since 2000; a number of U.S. outlets are believed to be interested in the 2014 and 2016 rights contest.

"We have an appealing organization for these broadcasters and I believe it's going to be a very competitive discussion to see who the winner will be," Rogge said.

Probst spent a full week in Acapulco. Blackmun, sporting a black sling after shoulder surgery, spent five days here. They went to meetings. They went to banquets. They bought drinks in the open-air Fairmont Princess hotel bar.

A lot of IOC relationship-building -- that quiet talk -- gets done at the bar. Even by IOC standards, however, the bar scene at the Princess was truly a scene (conference organizers had deemed it unsafe to leave the Fairmont compound, citing the narco-violence in and around Acapulco, and so the hotel bar was the only option). Probst and Blackmun could readily be seen -- obviously glad to be there but nonetheless subdued, modest, wholly appropriate at all moments.

Probst was named to the ANOC executive council. He delivered a speech on marketing. The USOC signed a deal with the Brazilian Olympic Committee on athlete exchanges and training.

And then came the announcement on the L.A. and Colorado Springs events -- precisely the sort of thing the USOC ought to be going after, evidence that it's in the movement for all the right reasons.

Not -- and this is the No. 1 knock against the Americans -- just to make money.

"There has been a dramatic change," Probst told the Associated Press. "The whole relationship is just feeling much better than a year ago. That's good both for the U.S. and the Olympic movement."