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A Come-From-Behind Plan to Land the Olympics

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Among sports federations, the International Volleyball Federation is the current archetype for ascending into the big time. Through active marketing—including more-revealing player uniforms and TV-friendlier rules—it catapulted itself to top status in terms of international membership. Now awash in sponsorship and ad revenues, the federation has a $100 million war chest and recently announced its move to a palatial $8.5 million building in Lausanne, beside the lakefront Musée Olympique. This is the future that every little-known Olympic sport dreams of, and to win precious IOC votes (at least three IOC members have strong volleyball connections), Doctoroff is promoting New York’s singular ability to make it all come true. “Many federations have identified the United States as a problem area in terms of their sport’s future,” he says. “So we’ve been discussing plans to capitalize on the new venues in New York, on the local media and financial resources, and also on New Yorkers who have great sports-marketing expertise.” Curchod puts it in more succinctly: “Members interested in building the stature of their sport want to know what New York, if it wins the vote on July 6, can do for them starting July 7.”

Other than personal relationships and the idiosyncratic desires of certain sports, a major IOC concern is the ability of host cities to manage logistics. Bidders need to demonstrate they can bring off the whole event without the chaos of, say, Atlanta in 1996. On this front, Doctoroff had been doing well: He smartly retailored the original plan to reflect certain IOC preferences, like ditching the picturesque ferries that were to deliver athletes to the venues in favor of boring but dependable buses.

But then there’s the stadium problem. All along, the controversy surrounding it has been a drag on the 2012 bid. From the beginning, some Olympic observers considered it risky for Doctoroff to link the approval of the stadium to the bid itself. NYC 2012, they contend, could have gone after the Games with the mere promise of building one. That approach was apparently good enough for the London organizers. But New York felt it needed a bolder strategy. “Look, in order to have an Olympic bid, you need to have an Olympic stadium,” Doctoroff says. “Even if it costs us some popularity right now, we want to be able to ensure that we can deliver on the promise.”

This strategy has pitted NYC 2012 against Cablevision’s Dolan family, the owners of Madison Square Garden, not to mention a noisy array of activists. With the mayor and the governor committed to the stadium, though, it looked as if the Dolans could be dismissed as a nuisance. Then they submitted their competing bid for the stadium site, a two-page document that described a mixed-use development rather than a stadium, and offered a higher price than the Jets were planning to pay. The MTA, which owns the proposed site and is about to institute a subway-fare increase, is in no position to ignore a potentially more lucrative bid.

The NYC 2012 team quickly went on the counterattack, blasting the Cablevision bid as a ruse. The Dolans, they argued, have no track record as a developer and no expertise at building anything. “This is not a real offer,” explains NYC 2012 executive director Jay Kriegel. “People in this town are smart enough to see that.”

Unfortunately for NYC 2012, while having an actual stadium in place isn’t technically a necessity, the IOC considers local support a vital issue, and Cablevision’s maneuver sent things in the other direction. While London has wrapped the Millennium Dome in a 90,000-square-foot banner reading london 2012 candidate city host venue in letters large enough to be read from airplanes, and Paris has raised giant floating rings visible throughout the entire city on the proposed site of its Olympic village, Doctoroff has stadium opponents dominating the headlines on the eve of the IOC visit. That’s why the Dolans’ timing was so damaging.

The NYC 2012 strategy for now is to keep up the heat on Cablevision, while the Jets are encouraged to come up with more money and allow the MTA to righteously reject Cablevision. Then NYC 2012 hopes to make it through the evaluators’ visit with assurances that despite some evidence to the contrary, New Yorkers are really gung ho for the Olympics.

What’s particularly odd about the whole situation is that while Cablevision is fighting the stadium, it plays a prominent role in the Olympic bid—Madison Square Garden is where the men’s basketball games are supposed to be played, and it’s on the itinerary of the IOC evaluators. Cablevision did not return calls seeking comment about how it will greet the evaluators, but Kriegel of NYC 2012 tries to give it a positive spin. “We’ve always had a first-class relationship with them on this topic,” he says. “We expect them to do a first-class presentation during the IOC evaluation visit.”

Like any powerful organization, the IOC inspires its share of conspiracy theorists. Many converge on the message boards at gamesbids.com, a site obsessed with the selection process. “The difficulty with predicting these votes is that there are so many factors and so few voters,” explains the site’s founder, Robert Livingstone, a Canadian who has tracked the topic for fifteen years. “Public perception doesn’t count at all.”


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