LANE ONE: Elite U.S. athletes won’t like this: average USOC grant in 2017 was $9,404

The annual report, audited financial statements and tax return for 2017 for the United States Olympic Committee were posted last week and provides an annual glimpse into the operations of the world’s leading National Olympic Committee.

On the surface, this was an unexceptional year in finance for the USOC. As is the case with the years in which an Olympic or Winter Games is not held, it lost money, with revenues of $213.3 million and expenses of $209.4 million for a cash surplus of $3.9 million, but a change in its accounting for larger meant that $25.2 million in gifts will be recognized when received instead of when promised. So, from an accounting standpoint, there is a net loss because of this of $21.4 million. The USOC had $438 million in net assets as of the end of 2017.

In its Annual Report (use this link to download), the USOC notes that “Approximately 82 percent of the USOC’s budget has a direct impact on its mission of supporting athletes via a variety of programs for both athletes and their National Governing Bodies. In addition to performance grants and rewards, additional support is provided in the form of training facilities, sports medicine and science, coaching education, health insurance, promotional opportunities, education and career services, outfitting and travel, and safe sport and antidoping programming.”

Against expenses of $209.4 million in 2017, that would mean that about $171.7 million would go to athlete support of various kinds. And, in fact, in the USOC’s audited financials, there is a detailed chart showing $171.2 million in “Program services” which include:

∙ $76.4 million High Performance Grants
∙ $7.3 High Performance Management
∙ $8.3 Sports Medicine
∙ $5.6 Sports Science
∙ $2.7 Other High Performance Programs
∙ $3.2 Olympic and Paralympic Competitions
∙ $27.1 Athlete Training Facilities
∙ $18.8 NGB and Athlete Foundational Programs
∙ $21.9 Team USA and Media Promotion

All good, right? The biggest amount is for grants to athletes … except that the $76.4 million figure is not just athlete payments. Actual grants make up $69.1 million, but this includes about $52 million to the National Governing Bodies and, according to Note J of the financial statements, $18.1 million of actual, direct grants to athletes. But did athletes get even that much?

Cross-referencing the financial statements with the IRS Form 990, we see that in Schedule I, Part III, Athlete Performance Stipends were made to 1,427 individuals for a total of $13,418,097. That’s an average of $9,403.57 per athlete for 2017.

Really, that’s all? No, that’s only part of the story, but it’s a figure that USOC critics will seize on. But there is more athlete compensation buried in the numbers, so read on.

In addition to the “training support” grants handed out by the USOC, there was also $3,156,625 given to 605 individuals for “Operation Gold” for winning medals in specific competitions, an average of $5,217.56 per award, and the 605 who received there were also possible (likely?) recipients of the training stipends.

Also available to athletes were grants from their National Governing Bodies. The arrangement, not widely understood, is detailed in the tax return:

“USOC grant funds are awarded to individual sports through each National Governing Bodies (NGBs) and are agreed upon and administered through a Performance Partnership Agreement (PPA). The approved projects for elite athlete training are outlined and agreed upon in the PPA. NGBs receive payments from the USOC on a quarterly basis. Prior to releasing funds, NGBs are required to provide a quarterly report outlining the amount of dollars spent on each of the USOC-approved training projects. At the end of the year, NGBs are required to provide a final report on each of the USOC-approved projects. The NGBs are then periodically audited by the USOC audit division.”

So which NGBs got the $52 million? Forty of the U.S. NGBs which participate as IOC-approved sports in the Olympic or Winter Games received USOC funding; there were 21 NGBs who received $1 million or more (in millions):

$6.204 U.S. Ski & Snowboard Association
$3.914 USA Track & Field
$3.445 USA Swimming
$2.696 U.S. Speedskating Association
$2.352 USA Bobsled & Skeleton
$2.303 USA Gymnastics
$2.077 USA Hockey
$1.934 USA Volleyball
$1.875 USA Shooting
$1.794 U.S. Rowing Association /10/
$1.596 USA Wrestling
$1.345 USA Cycling
$1.290 U.S. Water Polo
$1.258 U.S. Equestrian Federation
$1.128 USA Triathlon
$1.125 U.S. Sailing Association
$1.099 U.S. Figure Skating Association
$1.040 U.S. Diving
$1.028 USA Basketball
$1.021 U.S. Biathlon Association /20/
$1.014 USA Curling (21)

So these federations then distributed funds to athletes in their sports, but the number and amounts are not reported in the USOC’s tally.

So we don’t know exactly how many athletes got stipends in 2017, or how much they received. But even if all of the money to the NGBs went to athletes – it did not – it would be less than 33% of the USOC total expenses for 2017.

There is plenty of detail on the highest-paid USOC executives in the tax return, led by $1.36 million for ex-chief executive Scott Blackmun. There were 14 individuals who received $300,000 or more, which will be loudly criticized by athlete groups. But the real issue to be considered is the total personnel cost for the USOC and its accompanying Foundation: a total of $53.4 million out of an expense total of $209.4 million or 25.5%. Does the USOC’s staffing plan meet today’s athlete and fundraising needs?

The fundraising is also an issue. Over the past four years:

2014: $22.8 million net: $37.2 million at a cost of $14.4 million
2015: $26.3 $39.6 million at a cost of $13.3 million
2016: $16.8 $32.6 million at a cost of $15.8 million
2017: $10.8 $20.9 million at a cost of $10.1 million

That going to be something for new CEO Sarah Hirshland to look into … among other things.

The USOC also spent $27.1 million on athlete training facilities, $9.5 million on athlete health insurance and medical support and gave $4.4 million to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency and $2.7 million to the U.S. Center for SafeSport, all crucial elements for the Olympic Movement in the U.S. But there is no way to tell how much was spent for coaching training and support, also an important athlete-support element.

The USOC’s information package gives plenty of ammunition to both those who support its activities and its detractors. There’s no doubt that change will be coming and Hirshland will be pushed to find more money for grants directly to athletes, even if just to make a procedural change and have any USOC funds that end up in an athlete wallet be paid by it, so that they get credit for it.

Rich Perelman