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Let The Game Shows Begin _ Olympic ‘Wheel’ Heading to Atlanta

March 3, 1996

ATLANTA (AP) _ Hide the torch. The symbol of Atlanta’s next big Olympic event is a great, glittery spinning wheel.

Pat Sajak, Vanna White and the ``Wheel of Fortune″ are taping in Atlanta this month as an official game show of the Summer Olympics.

In what some say is a letter-perfect example of how the name of the Games has become money, Atlanta organizers for the first time in Olympic history have sold official sponsorship rights to television game shows _ ``Wheel of Fortune″ and ``Jeopardy!″

Along with the 1,996-foot hot dog Olympic organizers used to promote their official packaged meat sponsor, bestowing the venerated Olympic tag on game shows has made Atlanta the punch line in any joke about the commercializing of the Olympics.

``People make light of it,″ acknowledged Lisa Dee, ``Wheel of Fortune″ special projects coordinator. ``And we all have a good sense of humor. But we take it very seriously. We’re a sponsor in the same way GM is a sponsor.″

But has General Motors, or any other Olympic sponsor for that matter, ever boasted a 1,500-pound wheel and a TV audience of 100 million people a week?

Four 48-foot semi trailers will bring the ``Wheel of Fortune″ set to Atlanta’s Fox Theater for three days of taping starting March 29. The 14 shows done in Atlanta will air the weeks of April 22-26, April 29-May 3 and July 15-18.

The set will be decorated with Olympic images, and many of the prizes will come from Olympic sponsors. Producers are hoping to have Olympic athletes as contestants for the shows that air in July, though no one has confirmed yet. Regular folks, including some from Atlanta, will play the game for the other shows.

Still needing to sell millions of dollars worth of tickets and souvenirs to break even financially, the Summer Games will get matchless exposure every time it’s mentioned on one of the game shows. Olympic merchandise also will be hawked directly to viewers.

``What the Games want is for people to watch it on TV,″ said Brian Murphy, publisher of the Sports Marketing Letter, a sponsorship newsletter in Westport, Conn.

``Jeopardy!″ also is planning Olympics-themed shows, but has not released details.

Murphy said the public, by now accustomed to heavy product advertising and marketing at sports events, probably doesn’t care much whether the Olympics are too commercial.

``I think it’s an issue only as far as the newspapers are concerned,″ Murphy said.

``Sports is not a religion,″ he said. ``Some people treat it that way, but my advice is to take seriously the serious things in life and relax about the rest. This definitely falls into the `relax about the rest’ category.″

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