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USOC chairman weathering rough start to tenure

By: BRIAN GOMEZ
September 29, 2009
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photo - Larry Probst Photo by
Larry Probst Photo by  

Larry Probst grinned, laughed a little on the inside, then answered a question about all the headaches he endured during a turbulent first year as U.S. Olympic Committee chairman.

“They were, to a degree, unexpected,” said Probst, the former chief executive officer of video-game maker Electronic Arts whose one-year anniversary in the USOC’s most high-profile post is Friday. “But solving problems can be interesting work.”

Problem after problem has consumed Probst since he replaced Peter Ueberroth, and many big issues remain unsolved, threatening to damage the USOC’s credibility in international circles, Chicago’s chances for the 2016 Olympics and his reputation as a strong leader.

EA’s chairman, Probst, 59, of San Francisco, mostly shied away from the spotlight when the USOC appointed Stephanie Streeter acting CEO, cut its staff by 13 percent, got sued by a Colorado Springs developer over its new headquarters building and postponed plans for a cable TV network amid International Olympic Committee protests.

Probst did ease concerns over a long-standing agreement with the IOC in which the USOC collects 12.75 percent of U.S. TV rights fees and 20 percent of global marketing revenues — nearly $300 million from 2005-08 and about $450 million the next three years. He will meet with IOC members as early as November to discuss a possibly restructured deal.

And Probst lately has been vocal in support of Streeter, saying the USOC is “more cost effective, efficient and strategically focused on the future” than under Jim Scherr. He also admitted the timing of the U.S. Olympic Network “wasn’t as good as it could have been,” with Chicago locked in a tight Olympic race. The IOC will pick the 2016 host Friday.

“It’s complicated — more complicated than I would have imagined,” said Probst, whose EA salary was $81.76 million during a five-year stint ending in 2005. “Lots of different, moving parts. Lots of history. Lots of relationships that develop over time. You need to pretty quickly understand how those inner relationships work.”

The USOC, boasting roughly $60 million in cash reserves, hasn’t made much progress in trying to land government financing, a sore point for Ueberroth, the former Major League Baseball commissioner. Probst said it’s “something that would be evaluated” in a 15-year strategic plan that’s in the works for a Dec. 14 board meeting in San Francisco.

Olympic national governing body leaders, mainly USA Triathlon executive director Skip Gilbert and USA Gymnastics CEO Steve Penny, are still a thorn in Probst’s side, angered over Streeter’s rise from the board after Scherr resigned in March.

Probst vowed to “improve our relationships with the NGBs, have better communication and a more productive, working relationship. … You’ve got to get out there, and you’ve got to meet people, and you’ve got to begin to build relationships. I’ve got to commit to do even more of that in the future.”

See our Olympics blog at gazetteolympics.freedomblogging.com

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