Olympic Committee Puts Network on Hold

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The U.S. Olympic Committee isn't giving up the idea of its own television network.

Though it's "on pause" for now, acting CEO Stephanie Streeter said Wednesday she still believes a network would help Olympic sports that get little - if any - attention between games.

"I continue to believe - as does the IOC, I think - that a properly planned and structured U.S. Olympic Network will deliver great benefits to the entire Olympic and Paralympic movement, and to all of you," Streeter said in a keynote address to the U.S. Olympic Assembly. "And I'm looking forward to engaging in that dialogue in full partnership with the IOC in the future."

USOC leaders touted the network as a way to increase interest in the Olympic movement and as a complement to NBC. But it dropped the idea last month after a very harsh reception by the International Olympic Committee, which worried about offending NBC, the network that provides the IOC's largest chunk of revenue with a $2.2 billion deal to broadcast the 2010 and 2012 Olympics. NBC also has the rights to the U.S. Olympic trials for both games and is committed to bidding for the 2014 and 2016 TV rights.

The dispute threatened to harm Chicago's bid for the 2016 Games, coming just weeks before the IOC's Oct. 2 vote on a host city.

"Simply put, we miscalculated the negative response," Streeter said. "While we received many positive statements of support at home and from international members of the Olympic and Paralympic families, we have put the network on 'pause."'

The network is hardly the only challenge the USOC faced this year.

Streeter took over after Jim Scherr was dumped in March, a messy transition that was widely criticized in Olympic circles. Among the most vocal critics were the national governing bodies - the very people Streeter was addressing Wednesday. The move was made to bring a more businesslike atmosphere to the USOC, something that's become even more critical in the economic downturn.

The USOC announced a major sponsorship agreement with the Proctor & Gamble Co. last week, but recently lost longtime partners General Motors and The Home Depot. It still is trying to renew deals with Bank of America and AT&T.

The USOC is still strong financially, Streeter said. Reserves are "well up" from where they were four years ago, and the board approved a $16.5 million budget for winter sports in June. That brings total funding for the current four-year period to $58.2 million, a 55.2 percent increase from 2003-06.
"The fundamentals of the USOC remain strong and so does the future," Streeter said. "Financially, thanks to some prudent business decisions to rein in spending and be good stewards of Olympic dollars, we're on solid ground."

And looking forward to success at the Vancouver Olympics, just five months away.

One prognosticator has the Americans winning 13 gold meals in Vancouver, which would top the 10 they won in Salt Lake City. Overall, the Americans are projected to win 28 medals, one less than host Canada. The projections are based on results at recent world championships or equivalent events.

"We know we have athletes in just about all of our winter sports who have the capability to find themselves on the podium," Streeter said. "While none of us can predict what will happen on any given day, it is a real tribute to these athletes, their coaches and their NGBs to know that we're heading to Vancouver with ... athletes who will challenge for medals in dozens of events."

Success in Vancouver could go a long way toward soothing those who've been disgruntled with the USOC's latest moves.

Streeter said she doesn't have all the answers, but promised that she and the USOC will be a better partner in the future. She pledged to spend more time learning what's important to the various Olympic Assembly members, and make sure their work is respected by everyone at the USOC.

"Yes, we're living through some very tough times right now," Streeter said. "But I believe that through the right kind of partnership, discipline and accountability, we can move into a new era of excellence together."
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