Like the man who conceived them, the Goodwill Games are ambitious, grandiose and financially troubled. The 17-day made-for-TV event reached its midway point in Moscow at week’s end with its creator, 47-year-old U.S. broadcasting maverick Ted Turner, confronting losses in the tens of millions, TV sets tuned to other channels, and thousands of empty seats at 18 Moscow venues. Despite a number of stirring performances, including world records, the opening week of the first Goodwill Games fell well short of Turner’s prediction that they would be “bigger than the Olympics.” And while Turner reluctantly admitted that “these Games are not going to solve all the world’s problems,” they may eventually solve some of his.
Turner earned the nickname Captain Outrageous while piloting his 12-m yacht Courageous to victory in the 1977 America’s Cup. His empire includes the first satellite TV superstation, WTBS in Atlanta, Ga., the first all-news 24-hour cable-TV network, CNN, and MGM’s film library, which contains such epics as Gone
With the Wind. He also owns the Atlanta Hawks of the National Basketball Association and the Atlanta Braves of baseball’s National League. And because he is given to lengthy pronouncements on everything from arms and population control to better relations with the Soviet Union, Turner has earned the nickname Mouth of the South. He was typically unabashed in promoting the first multisport meeting of Soviet and U.S. athletes since the 1976 Olympics: “This is the biggest joint effort between the Soviet Union and the United States since the Second World War.” Indeed, the enterprise is massive. The Games cost approximately $100 million (U.S.) to stage, of which the Soviets put 1 up $65 million. Turner £ paid $7.5 million to the Soviet sport council, $5.4 million to the U.S. Athletics Congress to ensure a strong U.S. contingent and $1.4 million to Soviet radio and television for facilities. His total expenditure is expected to exceed $35 million. While the Soviets will reap any propaganda value as hosts, Turner retained the broadcasting rights outside the Soviet bloc. By
the closing ceremonies on July 20, WTBS will make 129 hours of the competition-involving 3,500 athletes from 60 countries in 18 sports—available to 70 million U.S. TV households via 10 communications satellites. And Canada’s cable sports network, TSN, will have relayed WTBS’S coverage to 833,000 subscribers. Still, Turner will lose between $10 million and $20 million (U.S.). But for a man who claims to be $2 billion (U.S.) in debt—mainly because of the MGM purchase—with daily interest payments of $1 million (U.S.), the loss is relative. Said Turner: “Jesus Christ didn’t make money, neither did Martin Luther King.”
One man who does is U.S. track star Carl Lewis. The 24-year-old has turned his four gold medals at the 1984 Olympics into a personal fortune. But Lewis became a pauper in his 100-m showdown with Canada’s Ben Johnson last week. The 24-year-old Jamaican-born Johnson won the gold medal in a time of 9.95 seconds—the second-fastest 100 m ever run—and claimed the title of the fastest man in the world. Lewis finished third. Said Johnson: “The last time I beat Lewis he had some complaints. I just wonder what he has to say this time.” Said Lewis: “I don’t care about being number 1 in the world as much as Ben does.” Among the other exciting performances was American Jackie Joyner’s world-record 7,148 points in the women’s sevenevent heptathlon. American Edwin Moses won his 111th consecutive 400-m high hurdles race since 1977 and Soviet Sergei Bubka broke his world record with a pole vault of 19 feet, 8% inches.
Yet for all of Turner’s 18 months of negotiating, planning and promoting, the Games were ill-timed. Many of the world’s top athletes were busy competing in national meets and preparing for the Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh July 24 to Aug. 2 and the world swimming and diving championships Aug. 13 to 23 in Madrid. Still, the 1986 Goodwill Games may prove to be a pilot for a long-running TV series. Following the U.S. boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics, the Soviet boycott of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics and growing concern over an Eastern Bloc boycott of the 1988 Seoul Olympics, the Goodwill Games could possibly become a permanent summer replacement for the troubled Olympics. In that case, Turner’s show would be worth millions, helping to stabilize his turbulent financial situation. By 1990, when the second Goodwill Games are scheduled for Seattle, Wash., the Mouth of the South may have added another epic for his superstation.
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