- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 3, 2009

Chicago’s dreams of Olympic glory were shattered Friday afternoon, as Rio de Janeiro was granted the rights to host the 2016 Summer Games, disappointing President Obama and marking the first time the global sports spectacle will be held in South America.

Just hours after an impassioned, personal plea from Mr. Obama and first lady Michelle Obama, members of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) gave Chicago the fewest votes in the first round of voting during its session in Copenhagen. Supporters who believed the president’s adopted hometown was one of the favorites to win were stunned.

Rio de Janeiro easily bested Madrid 66-32 in the final round of IOC voting to win the rights to host the games. Tokyo placed third and Chicago last among the four finalists.

IOC members were apparently moved by the pitch from Brazilian officials, who urged the committee to award the games to a South American city for the first time. At one point, bid representatives displayed a map showing where previous Olympics have been held, pointing to numerous times in which the games took place in Europe and the United States.

“Rio is a suffered city,” said Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who wept openly after learning of the IOC’s decision. “For a long time Rio only showed up in the newspapers only showing crimes. We want Rio to show up in the headlines, but the sports headlines showing good news of the good things we are doing.”

IOC President Jacquese Rogge said Rio put forth a “very strong” bid and noted that the city rebounded from an early-round ouster from consideration for the 2012 Summer Games, awarded to London.

“Rio remained humble,” Mr. Rogge said. “Rio wanted to listen, to correct their shortcomings. They learned a lot, and today they won. And I think this is a very nice story. The [IOC] members also went for the extra added value of going for the first time to a continent that never had the games. So I think this is an important decision.”

The announcement from Mr. Rogge that Chicago was the lowest vote-getter stunned a crowd in the city’s Daley Plaza that had gathered in anticipation of a celebration. After a morning of music from cover bands and speeches from Chicago icons such as Olympic basketball player Scottie Pippen, the hundreds of people who gathered to watch the announcement of the winning city were ill-prepared to be knocked out of the running so early in the competition.

“It was a real bummer,” said Eve Geroulis, a Loyola University global marketing professor who volunteered for the Chicago 2016 committee and attended the Daley Plaza festivities with a group of college students. “I have a deep emotional investment to the games as a Greek and as a lifelong Chicagoan. There was a momentum building and it was incredibly deflating; all of the air literally sucked out of that plaza when they announced that the city with the least votes was Chicago.”

Mrs. Geroulis said she had high hopes for the potential of the Olympics to revitalize the city.

“There would have been a residual benefit of the games in infrastructure and supporting youth sports,” she said. “It would have also gotten the Chicago Transit Authority up to date and created jobs, which are things that a lot of big cities in America need right now.”

Rio will now have seven years to prepare for the games and will be one of several Brazilian cities hosting soccer’s 2014 FIFA World Cup, which could offer a glimpse of how the Olympics will fare there.

But while Rio gets busy with preparations, supporters of Chicago’s Olympic bid are left wondering what went wrong. Chicago spent nearly $50 million in its effort to get the Olympics, and the city’s early exit is especially stinging given New York’s early departure from consideration for the 2012 Summer Games.

“It just wasn’t our day to win,” Pat Ryan, chairman of Chicago’s organizing committee, told the Associated Press in Copenhagen. “That’s just the way it goes. Some days you win, some days you don’t.”

The last Olympic event held in the U.S. was the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City. The elimination of Chicago guarantees that the United States will go at least 16 years without hosting an Olympic Games, the longest gap since the 20-year one between the 1960 Winter Games in California’s Squaw Valley and the 1980 Games in Lake Placid, New York. The U.S. has not hosted a Summer Games since 1996 in Atlanta.

Chicago’s failure was also another dose of bad news for the U.S. Olympic Committee, which angered the IOC in August after announcing plans for its own cable network without receiving full approval from the committee. The USOC has since postponed those plans.

The U.S. committee also has been embroiled in a long dispute with the IOC over the sharing of revenue from sponsors and broadcast rights, and has suffered a string of leadership changes involving six chief executive officers in the past nine years.

“My personal feeling is that from an Olympic movement standpoint, we don’t have people who can deal well in the international community,” said Tony Ponturo, former sports marketing chief for Anheuser-Busch and current chairman of the Leverage Agency, a New York-based sports marketing firm. “We’ve learned that no one likes the bully anymore, and the ‘we have a bunch of money’ argument has become weaker. These places like Brazil and Asia and Europe are just as proud areas of the world.”

In choosing Rio over Chicago, the IOC may be sacrificing some revenue - according to bid documents, Rio anticipates receiving $2.8 billion in revenue, with $570 million in domestic sponsorships, compared with an estimated $3.8 billion in revenue and $1.2 billion in sponsorships from Chicago.

“The reason Chicago was considered a favorite going in was because of the marketing and advertising potential here in the United States,” Mr. Ponturo said. “There is a raising of the level of the water when it’s in the United States. Even though many of these companies like Coca-Cola and McDonald’s are global companies, they are from the United States and this is their home market. They do take on a little different kind of interest.”

Meanwhile, the USOC will now face a greater challenge in landing sponsors of its own. The committee lost several sponsors in the past year including Home Depot Inc., Bank of America Corp. and General Motors Co. as the U.S. economy went into a sharp tailspin.

But Coca-Cola, which is locked in as a global Olympic partner through 2020, downplayed the significance of the IOC’s decision Friday.

“The Olympics is one of the few properties we can align ourselves with that is actually in line with our brand in that sense of a global reach,” company spokeswoman Susan Stribling said. “All four cities that were competing for the 2016 Games were very important for the Coca-Cola company.”

Analysts said that generally speaking, a U.S.-based games commands better television viewership, thus boosting the value of broadcast rights. NBC is paying $2.2 billion to televise the Olympics through 2012, and competition for the rights beyond that are expected to be intense. Money from U.S. broadcast rights makes up about half of all IOC revenue.

Rio, however, is located in a time zone that is just one hour ahead of the U.S. East Coast, ensuring that events can be shown during lucrative prime-time slots here.

“It’s like being in America from a TV rights standpoint, plus you get to enter a whole new market,” said J.C. Bradbury, an associate professor at Kennesaw State University who specializes in the economics of sports.

Aricka Flowers, reporting from Chicago, contributed to this story.

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