SALT LAKE CITY – The future of the Goodwill Games was uncertain before the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Now media giant AOL Time Warner, which inherited the multisport competition from creator Ted Turner, must decide whether it wants to continue backing the unprofitable event.
The 2001 Goodwill Games concluded in Brisbane, Australia, the day before the attacks. Salt Lake City was close to being awarded the 2003 winter version of the games last month before AOL Time Warner decided to postpone decisions on future games' hosts until it could review the event.
Turner said in Brisbane that he would consider buying back the Cold War-inspired Games, which he called "a good investment in the future of humanity," to prevent their demise.
Before the attacks, the Goodwill Games' new owners intended to base their decision about the games' future on U.S. television ratings, sponsor feedback and the success of the Brisbane event, where 1,300 athletes competed in 14 sports.
The Internet and media conglomerate must consider its bottom line — last week it lowered its 2001 revenue and cash-earnings expectations, citing a decline in advertising and costs associated with the terrorist attacks. But executives will also be aware of the psychological effect of chopping an event touted as fostering international camaraderie. AOL Time Warner donated $5 million to relief efforts days after the attacks.
CNN founder Turner created the Goodwill Games 15 years ago to ease tensions after tit-for-tat Cold War boycotts of the 1980 Moscow Olympics and 1984 Los Angeles Games. At a news conference before the attacks Turner said the games had not become an anachronism.
"The mission of the games now is to inspire children to get involved and show them friendly cooperation in sport on the international scene, to show them there is another way to live other than by killing each other: a spirit of goodwill and brotherhood," said Turner, now vice chairman of AOL Time Warner. "Not everybody has gotten that message yet."
Even though Turner, who donated $1 billion to United Nations programs in 1997, believes in the games' globalizing mission, he no longer calls the shots. Time Warner's merger with AOL earlier this year ended his control of Turner Broadcasting System, which includes the Goodwill Games. TBS merged with Time Warner in 1996.
Can the games survive without Turner's clout? Prime-time ratings for Brisbane were 0.9, just off the 1.0 target. An estimated 450 million households worldwide watched the opening ceremonies. More than 80 percent of event tickets were sold.
But with the United States embarking on a war against terrorism amidst a shaky economy, the benchmarks may have shifted. Besides Turner's largesse, the Goodwill Games have relied on advertising revenue, brought in corporate sponsorship and formed partnerships with local committees to offset costs.
The Goodwill Games need that corporate support to maintain their viability, said Paul Swangard of the University of Oregon's Warsaw Sports Marketing Center.
Brisbane, where prize money totalled $5 million, was the first Goodwill Games to break even. Four previous editions — in Moscow; Seattle; St. Petersburg, Russia; and New York — lost collectively about $150 million.
(Copyright 2001 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
APTV 09-30-01 1237EDT