A Screw-up of Olympian Proportions
A Veto That Probably Destroyed Eight Million Dreams
This is the saga of two high profile, deeply flawed organizations joining forces to create a public relations catastrophe--New York City and the U.S. Olympic Committee.
A bunch of rich city slickers were able to con the rubes from Colorado Springs into choosing the Sour Apple over San Francisco for an Olympic venue.
But they could not con the canny pols in Albany and Manhattan into selling them the land at below-market value and ponying up $300 million of taxpayer dollars so the New York Jets football team could have a spiffy new stadium.
Was this PR black eye avoidable?
The definitive answer: "Maybe yes, maybe no."
New York City did a masterful job wooing the U.S. Olympic Committee. It spared no expense at a gala weekend in mid-January 2001 for a salute to the great Olympic coaches that featured Rudolf Giuliani and the legendary Tommy Lasorda.
On the following November 2, in Colorado Springs was the high-powered, final face-off between San Francisco and New York before the final vote on which venue would be submitted to the International Olympic Committee as the American candidate city.
The City by the Bay put on a dandy show with Robin Williams on video causing shrieks of laughter. But it was Billy Crystal live that left the audience weeping and weak with glee--plus the promise of grand new $2 billion stadium on Manhattan's West Side coupled with national guilt over 9/11--which nailed it for New York.
During this period the USOC began to implode. In May 2002, USOC President Sandy Baldwin was forced to resign after claiming on her résumé that she had a masters degree from Arizona State when it was discovered she never completed her dissertation. A year later the elegant and articulate USOC Chief Executive Lloyd Ward was axed for ethical breaches. This was followed by a string of firings, resignations and acrimonious departures ending with the ousting of Sandy Baldwin's successor, Denver real estate agent and former soccer mom Marty Mankamyer. The USOC in utter disarray took its eye off the New York City ball.
Meanwhile, back in New York, the 9/11 tragedy skewed everybody's priorities.
Further, the NYC2012 Committee failed to take into consideration the traditionally testy relations between New York City and the state government in Albany.
The problem went back to 1969 when novelist Norman Mailer ran a campaign for mayor of New York with the impish, iconic New York reporter Jimmy Breslin as the candidate for city council president. Their agenda was to secede and make New York City the 51st state.
Their campaign was a hoot, but liberal Mayor John V. Lindsay was reelected. In the economic maelstrom that followed, New York City became a financial basket case. Albany stepped in and began exercising control over the city's finances, which it does to this day.
Instead of courting the state and city politicians from the get-go, the arrogant multi-billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his deputy, Daniel L. Doctoroff, spent their time and money rounding up support from chief executives of major New York corporations.
In addition, Cablevision, which owns Madison Square Garden, perceived the new stadium to be a threat to its business and mounted a vicious campaign "on a scale never attempted by a private company against a City Hall project," wrote The New York Times.
In the meantime too many people in high places had been dissed. City and state elected officials felt that if $300 million were poured into New York City, it should be for the economic rebuilding of the downtown region decimated by the 9/11 attacks rather than for the benefit of an NFL franchise.
According to Bob Herbert in The New York Times, following his veto Speaker Silver was asked if the Olympic project was really dead.
"It was never alive," he replied.
On June 12 it was announced that the NYC2012 deal was still alive as a result of an eleventh-hour deal whereby Mayor Bloomberg twisted the arm of New York Mets owner Fred Wilpon to commit to $600 million for a new 45,000-seat stadium. The city and state would pick up an additional $280 million to enable it to be expanded to 80,000 seats for the Olympics. Speaker Silver and Senate Majority Leader Bruno have reportedly endorsed the new plan.
This means an entire new proposal must be submitted to the International Olympic Committee less than one month before the site selection. Even on the remote chance New York City is selected, nothing will wipe the dozens and dozens of eggs off the faces of New Yorkers and the USOC in the eyes of the world.
The final choice of a venue is to be made on July 6.
Letters to the Editor
In response to "Crowe Eats Crow," which published 6/14/05:
Aren't you glad there is no video of the Russell Crowe incident? Imagine how many times we would have seen it by now.
--Susan Pepperdine, with Pepperdine & Associates Inc.
While it must be emphasized that Crowe should have been made whole prior to his
tantrum, the reference to Philly's Rittenhouse Hotel is a tad simplistic ["Crowe Eats Crowe," 6/14/05]. I recall reading a book by Jan Carlson, head of SAS Airlines, which he titled "Moments of Truth." He had the exact same philosophy as the Rittenhouse folks ... empower employees to keep the customer happy.
Of course, SAS went out of business.
Such empowerment is only one part of the equation. However, I think these
"moments of truth" are also moments of decision: There is a point in every
problematic customer interchange where the vendor decides to stick with the
client or that the client is not worth keeping. Hopefully, the former decision
is the far more common. In Crowe's case, I'd let this bird fly away.
--Dan Boyden, with Mailing Services of Virginia
I really like this common sense column!! Thanks for doing it - it's much-needed.
Re: the thrown telephone incident, If I'd paid $3000 for a night in a hotel I'd
expect my phone to work too. I suspect Estrada is a typical night crew employee
who is in training at a time when they didn't expect any real service to be
needed. It's a shame--in my experienice, that's when good service is most
I'm also guessing that the lawyers were lining up like vultures to pick up
Estrada's case, but the fact that there were no stitches means while it
frightened him, it wasn't so dreadful an injury. What a weenie.
So--what next? When Estrada's child gets deliberatly bumped by a kid during a
playground game of T-Ball, will he go for a million then?
Not that big stars should get off with no repercussions, but Estrada would have
shown a lot more class if he'd forgiven and kept it between Crowe and himself.
There is a lot of good Kharma in compromise and discretion. The litigious nature
of our culture has thrown all good taste and class out the window. Estrada is a
Jerry Springer kinda guy.
PS--I've had much worse verbal assaults thrown at me by ill-mannered and cranky
telemarketers than this Mr. Estrada had under the tantrum of Russell Crowe.
--Carol Worthington-Levy, with LENSER
And the following missives came in about the "Steve Jobs Plays a Most Dangerous Game" column, published 6/9/05:
Your opinion about buying a new Mac nailed it.
I just spent the last three months convincing myself to replace my old Mac with much more new Mac than
I really need. Getting it was to be the project for my vacation next week.
Now, there is no way I will buy one before the change over. And probably not until the new ones are out long enough to see what kind problems they have.
I would rather have enjoyed my new computer for year before it became obsolete (which I would have expected to happen anyway).
Thanks for nothing, Steve.
Thank you for your newsletter.
Like you, I'm a devoted Mac user. Here's another, more positive view of
Apple's switch to Intel chips:
But overall I agree with you that the way Apple announced the switch
did not take into account the customer's point-of-view. Maybe it was
designed to appeal to stock holders. But apparently, neither you (nor
I) can speak to that.
--Jeff Bryant, with Creative Direct Marketing
Given the extreme success Mr. Jobs has had during his career, I wouldn't spend much effort second guessing his decisions.
--John Kennedy, with Arlington Greene Agency Inc.