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Thursday, July 5, 2012


Olympics just keep getting bigger

Staff writer

In the 64 years since London hosted the 1948 Summer Olympics, the ways in which global athletics are promoted and produced have gone through dramatic changes. The challenge to produce a bigger, flashier Olympics is ever-present.

Consider the following description of the way things were in '48 from a BBC News Magazine article entitled "How to stage the Olympics on a shoestring":

"When London last staged the Olympics in 1948, money was so tight, athletes slept in military huts and leftover food went to local hospitals."

Austerity came to define the London Games. After World War II, money was remarkably scarce as people and nations began rebuilding after the war's devastating death, destruction and cost. The Guardian has written that the 1948 extravaganza was the "make-do-and-mend" Olympics, and reported the total cost at an estimated £750,000. All told, 59 nations competed.

What's the cost for the 2012 Olympics? It'll be $14.5 billion, according to Vanity Fair. The Guardian reported this figure: £11 billion ($17.24 billion). Indeed, incomprehensible sums of cash for most people.

The Olympics are big business. Gigantic.

That wasn't always the case.

For broadcasting rights, the BBC shelled out £1,000 for the 1948 Games, the London Daily Mail reported last month, reminding readers of the relatively small-scale role of media at the time.

The July 5, 1948, edition of the Manchester Guardian highlights that point at a time when those staging global sporting events had modest budgets.

"If the sporting public feel that they would like to ensure that our team is as well cared for as any team from abroad, contributions, however small, will be most welcome and should be sent to me."

That letter to the editor was written by the British Olympic Association's chairman of the council.

Television has revolutionized the modern Olympic movement. In the first post-World War II Summer Games, media reports stated that 50 hours of coverage were planned in London. The Radio Times noted this was "unprecedented," in a July 23, 1948, article.

Interestingly enough, the story also stated the following: "Concern is expressed for viewers who are not getting enough sun as they stay indoors to watch the event on television for the first time."

Fast forward to 2008, when 5,600 print journalists and photographers were issued credentials for the Beijing Games. In addition, 12,000 passes were given to broadcasting staff members from around the world.

In Beijing, 302 gold medals were awarded, and more than 10,000 athletes competed.

At the 2012 London Games, 204 national Olympic committees (NOCs) will send athletes; and YouTube's own online empire will provide 2,200 hours of free coverage on 10 live feeds plus a 24-hour news channel in 64 African and Asian nations (where IOC broadcasting rights were not sold).

The big bucks still reign supreme for broadcast networks, as evidenced by NBC, the U.S. broadcast giant, paying $4.4 billion for broadcast rights in 2011 for Winter and Summer Olympics through 2020.

So there you have it: from the BBC's £1,000 broadcast price tag in 1948 to NBC's $4.4 billion bill more than six decades later.

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