Editor’s note: Former MinnPost writer Jay Weiner covered 15 Olympics — every one of them, from the 1984 Winter Games in Sarajevo to the 2010 Summer Games in Beijing. In this July 30 article from the SportsBusiness Journal, he reflects on how the Games have changed.
I was witness to the corporate and political evolution of the post-modern Olympics. From the primitive Winter Games of 1984, which were scantily staged in a crumbling Communist nation, to the hyper-sponsored Beijing Olympics, gaudily presented in the world’s richest Communist nation, I was there.
When the ’84 Winter Olympics were held in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia, there was too much snow, too little electric power, hundreds of ticky-tacky local Yugoslav “sponsors,” and nary a hint that, years later, the figure skating and hockey venue would become a morgue for victims of a brutal, ethnic war.
Next came Los Angeles. In the bidding, the only cities that wanted those 1984 Summer Games — after a cycle of Olympic terrorism and boycotts — were Tehran, Iran, and Los Angeles. Somehow, Los Angeles won the burden, and a fellow named Peter Ueberroth changed the face of Olympic and sports marketing forever. He gave birth to exclusive product categories for sponsors, a true Games changer. He played potential sponsors off against each other. He laid the groundwork for the International Olympic Committee’s now flourishing billion-plus-dollar TOP marketing infrastructure.