In 1996 the International Olympic Committee created a revenue sharing program that distributed the hundreds of millions of dollars in television earnings to the 26 Olympic sports based on ratings, attendance and ticket sales. The tiered system has long favored track and field, but a recent push by FINA, the international swimming body, tried to change that. It was unsuccessful, as the IOC recently agreed to keep the revenue sharing plan in effect for London.
But this begs the question, which Olympic sport deserves the most television money?
Here's a listing of the cut to be received by each of the 26 sports in 2012. Each tier is receiving more money than Beijing, due to increased television revenue and the cutting of baseball and softball from the Olympic program:
Track and field -- $35.77 million
Swimming, basketball, cycling, football, gymnastics, tennis and volleyball -- $18.73 million
Rowing, equestrian, handball and field hockey -- $13.17 million
Boxing, badminton, canoeing, fencing, judo, wrestling, modern pentathlon, table tennis, shooting, archery, weightlifting, sailing, taekwondo and triathlon -- $11.19 million.
Track and field (or "athletics" as it's known by the IOC) getting the most money is fine. It's one of the four marquee sports at the Games and is heavily featured during the second week of competition. It draws the most fans, get some of the highest ratings and features one of the biggest stars in Usain Bolt. The problems occur at the lower tiers.
Michael Phelps became one of the most famous Olympians of all time in Beijing, raking in untold millions to the IOC. The events were among the most-watched and best attended in 2008. Phelps was Beijing. The 14-time gold medalist will return in London, likely bringing with him as much hype and anticipation as any athlete has ever had entering an Olympics (it will be even bigger than it was in China, even though he won't be expected to swim as well). And for that, his sport gets just $5 million more than handball?
FINA president Julio Maglione of Uruguay said the current ranking "does not reflect the reality of today." He believes his sport should be in the top tier and has called for an independent commission to review the formula before London. Though there's no way to make every sport happy (somebody has to be in the bottom tier), the IOC can surely do better than this.
Tennis and volleyball get the same as basketball and gymnastics? And how do equestrian and field hockey outrate weightlifting and fencing? And, most importantly, how does modern pentathlon, a one-day event, get the same money as sports that stretch out over most of the Games like boxing and wrestling? Usain Bolt's sport gets $17 million more than Michael Phelps' sport, while Michael Phelps' sport gets just $7 million more than guys playing ping-pong. Yes, I'd say it's time for a change, IOC.