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February 28, 2007

Q&A with Barry Sanders

Beginning on Thursday, the U.S. Olympic Committee will tour Southern California for two days of inspections, presentations, and photo ops. L.A. is vying for the right to represent the U.S. in its bid for the 2016 Olympics. On April 14, the USOC will announce its applicant city; either L.A. or Chicago will then face off against cities from around the world for the right to host the 2016 Games. (The International Olympic Committee will announce that in October of 2009.)

On the eve of the USOC's visit to L.A., Barry A. Sanders, the bow-tie wearing executive counsel at Latham & Watkins and the chair of the Southern California Committee for the Olympic Games, spoke with LA Observed.

LA Observed: You served as the general outside counsel during the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. What was your favorite moment during those Olympics?

Barry Sanders: Obviously, the Opening Ceremonies were wonderfully exciting. But I had lots of favorite moments, beginning in 1979. It was certainly a favorite moment to be able to strike the deal with Coca-Cola, which was our first sponsorship agreement. The entire receipts of the [1976] Montreal Olympics from sponsorships totaled $6 million, and this transaction was $12 million. A little bit after that we did our deal with ABC Television for $225 million for TV rights. This was the largest television deal in history at the time.

LAO: Does the legacy of L.A.'s Olympics in 1932 and 1984 help or hinder L.A.'s bid for 2016?

BS: We do not feel that we are in any way entitled or owed anything. But what we are is a city and a region that can do what it promises it can do, as we have shown in the past. And, it gives us a credibility that is tremendously important. The experience we've had is an experience in donating to the [Olympic] movement. When a city puts on the Games, it's not taking from the Movement, it's giving to the Movement. And, being a serial donor doesn't give us an entitlement, but it certainly should not cause people to consider us somehow disqualified from giving again.

LAO: Give me your top three reasons why the USOC should select L.A. over Chicago?

BS: I don't want to say anything "over Chicago." We don’t comment on the competition. But there are so many good things about the Los Angeles bid, even standing apart from any particular competitor. Los Angeles is, as a city, emblematic of the Olympic ideal. It's a city that is seen around the world as a place you go to to achieve your dreams. That's what the Olympics are really about. They were not conceived in the first place as a construction project. They were conceived by Baron de Coubertin as a set of ideas and ideals of people striving to meet their goals on a level playing field, people competing ethically, people from different nations getting together. Well, that's what Los Angeles is about.

If you listened to Forrest Whitaker's very eloquent acceptance speech [at the Academy Awards], he said that he's achieved his dreams. He told the story of achieving his dreams beginning with the fact that he moved from East Texas to Carson, where, after all, the Home Depot Center is. Now, I know that not everybody who moves to L.A. gets an Oscar, and not everybody quite achieves their dreams. But the city stands for that. The city is the epitome of that. And, that's what an Olympian is trying to do: to reach for the gold in the form of his and her dreams. So, this city is perfect for the Olympics conceptually.

Beyond that, we are ready to put on the Games. We have all the venues but a shooting venue – a rather minor construction that we will do at Fairplex [in Pomona]. Having all the venues has tremendous implications. If you're not spending your time building, racing to completion, putting all your resources – not only in money but in effort – toward construction, you have the time to refocus the Games on the athletes and the principles the Games stand for and to carry those principles to the world. When you've got all the venues, you don't fight about the Olympics the way other cities do, you don't see your budget spiraling out of control, and you end up with a surplus.
A third thing that Los Angeles brings to this that no one else can is this unbelievable media center. Things that happen in L.A. happen on a higher stage in terms of people noticing, in terms of a spotlight. If you want to get the Olympics to be seen and noticed by all demographic groups, including young people, around the world, the way to do it is to do it from Los Angeles. Here, we can enlist the direct involvement of Hollywood and get that machinery working for the benefit of the Olympic Movement.

LAO: Does L.A. have an advantage with USOC chair Peter Ueberroth living in Southern California and having made his mark at the 1984 Games?

BS: That one is neutral. Peter will make sure he's neutral. He's a man of the highest integrity. Besides, he was born in Evanston, Illinois.
If anything, we feel some necessity to make sure our bid is head and shoulders above the competition so that he won't unfairly accused should the USOC pick us. I'm sure he will act fairly.

LAO: How do you propose paying for the enhancement of the Coliseum, which you estimate at $112 million?

BS: That's on the Games' budget, so it's paid for like the other expenses of the Games. In the way these budgets go, this is a relatively modest cost. We still have a substantial expectation to have a surplus.

LAO: Do you think the enhancement will end up costing that in 2016 dollars?

BS: We were asked to budget everything in current dollars because we're not asked to speculate on the rate of inflation. But if general inflation happens, that will inflate our revenue as well as our expenses. In fact, our surplus would only grow. The real issue for other cities that build is not general inflation, but specific cost increases and unanticipated expenses involved with construction. That's what runs out of control and eats your surplus.

LAO: The enhancement of the Coliseum specifies 204 luxury suites. Are those reserved for VIPs and the IOC, or will the public use them?

BS: They will be sold to the public. They will be expensive seats, of course, but they're for public sale. This creates a great opportunity to increase our general revenue.

LAO: The enhancement of the Coliseum has been criticized, with L.A. Times columnist Helene Elliott noting that "imposing a modern sensibility on a classic icon creates a culture clash that the brain simply can't process." Is the plan for the Coliseum going to work?

BS: I think the renovation is a great enhancement, and we're determined to do the Games even better than they've ever been done before. So, if you're going to do it even better, you provide more. We do think the Coliseum will be enhanced, and enhancing our bid is what we're all about. We're determined to do it, unless the NFL does it for us, which we consider unlikely.

As for the comments about the renovations: There's no accounting for aesthetic taste. I think the renovation plan is exciting and beautiful, and that's been the vast response we've received. I don't think [Helene Elliott] really took it apart. She was very unhappy about mixing old and new and feeling that a sunshade was somehow inappropriate. The only thing I'd like to point out is that the ancient Coliseum in Rome had a fabric sunshade.

LAO: You teach a course at UCLA entitled “Architecture as Non-Verbal Communication.” What sort of 'non-verbal communication' does the Coliseum represent?

BS: It's very symbolic. If you think of the 1984 or the 1932 Games, you think of the Coliseum. This building evokes in your mind everything you remember or ever heard about the Games. In that sense, the Coliseum is a unique stadium because if you ask somebody about the Games in Sydney or in Atlanta, you don't get a visual image of the stadium. But when you ask about the L.A. Games, people generally have a visual image of the Coliseum. The Coliseum is a very evocative piece of architecture. It speaks to people of the Olympic Games. It says "Olympics."

LAO: You've been preparing for this week since L.A. lost out to New York City for the right to go for the 2012 Olympic bid [won by London won]. Is there anything you'd do differently?

BS: You know, they tell you what you have to do at each stage. We've done it.

LAO: Is it possible that the USOC will decide not to choose a city and bypass the bid for the 2016 Olympics altogether?

BS: All things are possible, but they announced on January 10th that they were going to choose a city and were going to bid. We take them at their word.

LAO: We've heard a lot recently about IOC members and leadership being frosty toward the U.S. True or not, does that worry you down the road?

BS: The issue certainly affected the New York bid. But we believe that having the [IOC] vote come in 2009 gives us enough time and enough circumstances to be able to overcome those objections. Also, California is seen in a way that is much more favorable in the international psyche than is currently the case for our nation as a whole. That's based on polling results. So that the concerns with American power – economic, military and political power -- seem to be concentrated on other locales. California is a place that is at the forefront in issues such as global warning. In fact, the state has adopted rules even more stringent than the Kyoto Accords. California is still a place in people's minds that stands for what this country has always stood for: a land of opportunity.

February 22, 2007

Spring books

Publishers Weekly's latest forecast previewed a small but interesting list of Southern California-related sports books to be released this spring. In March, MBI/Motorbooks publishes Joe Scalzo's City of Speed: Los Angeles and the Rise of American Racing, which "details the shops, racers, hot rod artists and tracks that have made L.A. the epicenter of the automotive performance industry." Dodger fans will have at least two options. In April, the Univ. of Nebraska Press offers Lee Lowenfish's Branch Rickey: Baseball's Ferocious Gentleman, while Triumph Books has Through a Blue Lens: The Brooklyn Dodger Photographs of Barney Stein 1939–1958, by Dennis D'Agostino and Bonnie Crosby in June. Finally, Cyd Zeigler and Jim Buzinski of L.A.-based Outsports.com have written The Outsports Revolution: Truth and Myth in the World of Gay Sports, scheduled for release by Alyson in June.

February 16, 2007

Kobe Cares? Have a Take, Do Not Suck

If you've ever listened to The Jim Rome Show, you've heard him give this valuable piece of advice to callers: "Have a take, do not suck."

Translation for the uninitiated: If you're going to have an opinion, make sure you've put some thought into it, and that it makes a degree of sense.

Which brings me to today's throwaway column from Yahoo, courtesy of Adrian Wojnarowski.

My guess is that you don't become Yahoo's national NBA columnist without talent. So I'm going to give Wojnarowski the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he just had a word count to fill before hopping on a plane to Las Vegas for this weekend's NBA All-Star festivities.

The article talks about how team-oriented Kobe's become this season. I've got no problem with that. It's the "analysis" of why Kobe's more about passing and so forth that's just ludicrous.

He writes:

Kobe Bryant could see it: All around him, the superstar game was changing, the fresh generation of Dwyane Wade and LeBron James redefining the guidelines between greatness and the game. These kids had come along with inclinations to dominate the NBA by passing the ball as easily as scoring it.

What? Kobe Bryant decided to pass the ball more because of peer pressure? (Forget that Wojnarowski is imputing all sorts of thoughts and feelings to Kobe based on no apparent source other than his imagination.) There's more:

Bryant was pushed over on the Rushmore of basketball superstars by two Madison Avenue darlings whose rapid ascensions came without the weight of Kobe's professional and personal baggage. And the way for him to nudge back had to come with a transformation far greater than a jersey change from No. 8 to No. 24.

Bryant had to take away the last, lingering criticism of his brilliant talent: His inner ball-hog had to die.

And then there's this:

As much as anything with the arrival of James and Wade, the basketball public started to expect something else out of its stars: selflessness. Few players are as sensitive to the public perception as Bryant, and he responded accordingly.

So now Kobe's passing more because he's trying to please the fans.

Anyone who's spent any amount of time covering Kobe knows that he's the most competitive athlete on the planet, or at least, tied with anyone else you might mention for first. Does he really sit around thinking about what Dwayne Wade and LeBron James are doing? Kobe's got three NBA titles. Does he really spend sleepless nights wondering how to gain the approval of fans?

This is Kobe Bryant we're talking about.

Kobe is passing more because he's realized, just like MJ did back in the day, that he can't win games alone. It's a practical fact. Bryant spent a couple seasons shooting a ton because he was finally out from under Shaq's shadow. He saw the result: lose, lose, lose. So he changed his ways, simple as that.

As far as Kobe's marketability goes, he didn't get pushed away from Madison Avenue by Wade or James. Kobe knocked his own star from the sky in a Colorado hotel room.

Sure, Wade passes a lot. If Shaq were on my team, I'd pass a lot, too. And as far as James goes -- well, he could learn a thing or two from Kobe when it comes to passing less, and shooting more. He's said it himself repeatedly: He doesn't have Kobe's killer instinct.

Anyway, the bottom line is this: You're paid to write a column, not just dial it in. Give us something worth reading.

February 15, 2007

Let there be volleyball

The Association of Volleyball Professionals beach volleyball tour received Coastal Commission approval this week to charge admission at matches to be held this summer in Hermosa Beach. Without the ability to collect for tickets, the sport was threatening to leave its ancestral home on the South Bay sand. Now the situation gets complicated, as the Daily Breeze reports.

The commission's decision for the Hermosa Beach tournament should reverberate next week in Manhattan Beach, when its City Council decides whether to allow the AVP to pursue full paid admission this summer at its tournament, the so-called Wimbledon of beach volleyball.

Manhattan Beach City Councilman Richard Montgomery was pleased with the commission's decision Wednesday, seeing it as an indication that his city might get more local control of its beaches.

In January, Montgomery and his colleagues began the process of allowing more seating by initiating an amendment to its Local Coastal Plan, a set of guidelines for coastal use that the commission must later approve.

Knowing a decision regarding Hermosa's tournament would come Wednesday, the council intended to use the panel's ruling as a barometer for what might fly in Manhattan Beach.

Should the commission approve a similar admission level for the Manhattan Beach Open, the City Council can then set its own admission ratio -- whether that means charging 90 percent of attendees or sticking with the original 25 percent, Montgomery said.

February 13, 2007

So Long Marty, and Everyone Else

I can't believe the San Diego Chargers fired Marty Schottenheimer now. SI.com says it best: This should have been done a month ago, when they still had an offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator that could have made decent (at least) head coaches.

Instead, they're both gone now (Cam Cameron to Miami, Wade Philips to the Dallas Cowboys), and so's Marty. Where does that leave San Diego? Likely pleading with Bill Cowher to stop his retirement short and come back to the NFL to win another championship. (That's how I'm guessing the pitch goes.) Of course, Cowher's a Marty guy, so that's probably not happening anytime soon. I guess Art Shell's available again.

It's really amazing, the state of professional football in California. The Raiders are absymal, the 49ers are getting better but still are clinging to the bottom of the bowl, and now, the should-have-been Super Bowl champions are coachless, with few legit prospects on the horizon. And L.A. still doesn't have a team.

February 12, 2007

Those billboards just make it worse

There are actually some positive signs for the organization and a few players — rookie Anze Kopitar and youngsters Alexander Frolov and Michael Cammalleri — having good years on a bad team. But Sports Illustrated online humor columnist Steve Hofstetter has some fun with the Kings' billboards using a hot babe to try to sell hockey in L.A. Excerpt:

If you drive around L.A., you will see many billboards that simply say "Kings Hockey" with a picture of an attractive blonde in a Kings uniform. The good news is that it's Los Angeles, so you can look at the billboard at three miles an hour.

I have nothing against a hot blonde. Hey, I spent much of my high school years hoping I could have something against a hot blonde. Anyway, my point is not that hot blondes are bad. They just shouldn't embody Kings hockey.

The idea must be to attract fans by selling sex, something that beer commercials and the LPGA have done for years. But this is not what the Kings need right now. Yes, Elisha Cuthbert is a Kings fan -- but that's the only thing hot and blonde about the team...

I'm not sure what the Kings should advertise instead. Perhaps their family pack, which actually allows you to go to a game with your family for under $100. Maybe their current non-losing streak (though that will end before the glue dries). But certainly not a random hot chick.

How about this -- a billboard with a picture of Wayne Gretzky above the phrase, "Hey, we couldn't win a cup with him, either."

800 try, 2 are selected

The Galaxy says that 800 hopefuls ponied up $130 each to try out for the team over the weekend — and if so, that's a brilliant cash-generating promotion for the team. Anyway, only two got a call back. Laurent Merlin, a 22-year-old former French leagues forward, and Rui Fortes, a 24-year-old midfielder from Portugal, were asked to work out with the team for a week. Merlin lives in France and came over for the tryout, and Fortes lives in Pawtucket, Rhode Island.

February 8, 2007

On the road with the Clippers

NEW YORK -- Before the Clippers' loss here Tuesday night, I stopped by the team shootaround at Madison Square Garden to warm up. Check it out:

LAO podcast

Ashley Force and Kenny Bernstein

Those of us who eschew NASCAR for real speed – as in drag racing – welcome this weekend's season-opening Winternationals event at Pomona. The Glendora-based NHRA introduces a new points system this year, but the real excitement should come on the track. As Martin Henderson points out in today's Times, 24-year-old Ashley Force will compete in funny car alongside her father, Yorba Linda-based John, the sport's winningest driver.

No doubt, the attention Ashley receives comes from 1) her family name and 2) her looks. She's drag racing's answer to Danica Patrick, and NHRA officials hope (pray?) that her presence will help NHRA escape from the shadows of NASCAR and IndyCar. Henderson quotes NHRA president Tom Compton as saying, "[Ashley Force's presence] may very well be a significant point in the history of the NHRA."

Don't expect Ashley to win right away –- the funny car field is loaded with talent (including John Force, the defending champ, and Ron Capps). But it's the return of "The King" -- Kenny Bernstein -- who will bring yet another, ahem, force to funny car. When Bernstein retired in 2002, at age 58, he ranked fourth all-time with 69 wins (39 in top fuel and 30 in funny car). But a funny thing happened on the way to the rocking chair: Bernstein found he missed the mano-a-mano duels at 330-miles-an-hour. Late last year, the Orange County-based Bernstein confirmed the worst-kept secret in drag racing circles and announced that he was returning to competition. In a sport that relies on ultra-quick hand-eye-foot reflexes – races last all of about 4.7 seconds – he'll test his skills against competitors half his age. (Ironically, Bernstein's chief sponsor is energy-drink Monster, a decidedly young man's beverage.)

The NHRA circuit runs into November, with the season-ending finale in, natch, Pomona.

February 5, 2007

Danelo was drunk

A toxicology report disclosed that USC kicker Mario Danelo had a blood-alcohol level of 0.23% when he died at the bottom of a cliff in San Pedro last month. The Los Angeles County Coroner's office could still not say whether he fell or jumped. There were no drugs in his body, but that alcohol level is nearly three times the legal limit for driving in California.

February 4, 2007

Ontario's arena play

Ontario arena

Citizens Business Bank Arena will be located west of Ontario Mills, north of Interstate 10, and is due to open October 2008. The city of Ontario is shepherding the project, but Anschutz Entertainment Group, which co-owns the Kings and runs Staples Center, will operate the facility. AEG is promising a minor league hockey team, apparently to be affiliated with the Kings. This latest update from the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin says the arena will seat 8,900 for sports and 11,000 for concerts. Here's also a look at the arena on the website of the adjacent mixed-use development.