Former EA Sports executive Probst to chair USOC board

DENVER -- The U.S. Olympic Committee is replacing a name most sports fans know -- Peter Ueberroth -- with an architect of a game most sports fans know -- EA Sports.

Larry Probst, a longtime executive at the company that makes some of the nation's most popular video games -- including Madden NFL and Tiger Woods PGA Tour -- was elected Thursday to replace Ueberroth as the USOC's chairman of the board.

He'll take office next month at the USOC's annual assembly.

"There wasn't any debate at the board meeting," Ueberroth said of the unanimous vote that ended in Probst getting a four-year term.

Ueberroth will stay on with the USOC in a nonvoting capacity, his presence considered essential to the federation's attempt to land the 2016 Olympics in Chicago; the International Olympic Committee vote is set for next October.

The 58-year-old Probst will be involved in the bid, but also was tabbed because of his business acumen. He has worked at Electronic Arts, a company that includes EA Sports, since 1984. Annual revenues at the company grew from $175 million to $3 billion over the 16 years during which he served as CEO. Last year, he retired that post and became chairman of the board.

"The EA Sports brand is one of the most recognized brands in the video games industry," Probst said. "I've been doing that for 15-plus years. As a consequence of that, I've had a lot of exposure to commissioners, leaders in sports."

Ueberroth thinks Probst will also have great access to board rooms of billion-dollar companies that help pay the USOC's bills through sponsorships. The federation took in about $600 million over the four-year period that ends this year, about 35 percent of which came through 17 sponsorship deals with the likes of Anheuser-Busch and Bank of America.

Given the current state of the economy, though, this is no time to take any financial deal for granted. It's a reality the board recognized in its meeting Thursday. Probst will be counted on to establish new relationships for the USOC that could result in new sponsorship deals.

"We know the economy is distressed right now," CEO Jim Scherr said. "We're very solid in our current sponsorship group and sponsor family. We feel the 2008 Olympic Games reinvigorated our country" in the way it views the Olympics.

Also on Probst's to-do list will be to start the USOC Network, a long-planned project that many thought would get off the ground before the Beijing Olympics but didn't.

The USOC has secured rights to televise events from more than half the individual sports on the Olympic program, but the strategy of bringing them to air has been slow to develop.

Probst was named to the board last month along with Ursula Burns of Xerox. They take spots being vacated by Ueberroth and Erroll Davis.

Probst got the most high-profile job and takes over for a huge figure in the Olympic movement. Ueberroth is considered an icon on the Olympic scene, widely credited with making the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles a success and asked to return to the movement in June 2004 to help the USOC implement its restructuring and buoy its sagging reputation abroad.

The board drafted new rules to keep Ueberroth on through the IOC selection process, not wanting to lose his influence at such a critical moment.

It figures he'll remain the most recognizable face of the USOC administration through next year, at least. Probst, not as well known to the public and with no background in the Olympic movement, was given a four-year term and can stay on for two years after that, much the way Ueberroth is this year.

The goal is to establish more continuity within a federation that was often derided for changing leadership too often.

Though it's a volunteer position, it is hardly a part-time job.

"This position, I think, is exactly right for me," Probst said. "I've got plenty of time to devote to this. We've talked about the time commitment and I'm very comfortable with the amount of time it's going to take."