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 28, 2007 11:07 AM • Native Intelligence • Email the editor

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