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Broadcasters warm to global gala

The Laureus World Sports Awards are making an ambitious charge on the global TV market in only its second year. With a number of sports kudocasts jockeying for position, the European-based Laureus — held in Monte Carlo on May 22, neatly sandwiched between the Cannes Intl. Film Festival and the Monaco Grand Prix — is the first show of its kind to clinch a U.S. network deal, at NBC.

“It’s a fun, exciting event with an unbelievable lineup of stars,” says Jon Miller, senior VP, NBC Sports, who says he’s looked at similar sports awards shows domestically but hadn’t found one that fit the bill. “An established, well-funded show that has the credibility of Laureus is hard to find. You have several (sports awards) in this country, but usually the guy only gets the award if he promises to show up. With Laureus it’s voted on by legitimate people.”

NBC struck a two-year deal, and has Jim Bell, coordinating producer of the 2002 Winter Olympic Games, handling the U.S. inserts. Broadcast is set for May 27, after the final round of the Senior PGA Golf Championship and will lead right into game four of the National Basketball Assn. Western Conference championship.

Not to be mistaken for some new brand of sports sedan, “Laureus” actually stems from the Greek word for laurel, the universal symbol for victory in athletics.

The Laureus seed was planted a decade ago at a dinner where Johann Rupert, CEO of luxury goods company Richemont, and photographer-entrepreneur Monty Shadow mused over the fact that there was no Nobel Prize or Oscars for sports figures.

In 1998, Richemont joined forces with DaimlerChrysler and made that musing a reality by committing to a full-scale sports project that included not only the awards but a year-round charity dedicated to affecting social change through athletics.

“In the past, the sport charity sector has been primarily concerned with two issues: participation in sport and nurturing elite athletes,” says Joachim Schmidt, board member of the passenger cars division at Mercedes-Benz (the event’s founding sponsor along with Richemont’s Cartier brand), and head of sales and marketing at DaimlerChrysler.

“The Laureus Sport for Good Foundation believes that sport has a more powerful role to offer to the world and is unique in its approach in recognizing sport as a tool to bring about social change. Together with Richemont, we’ve committed $1 million annually to Sport for Good over the next five years.”

The foundation is headed by Olympic athlete Edwin Moses, who also serves as head of the Laureus World Sports Academy, a 42-member panel of current and former sports greats who judge the final round of the nine categories of the Laureus World Sports Awards. (Pre-selection is handled by some 300 sports journalists from 75 countries.)

The proceeds from the broadcast sales of the Laureus World Sports Awards, among other ventures, all flow into the Sport for Good Foundation. And, according to Laureus’ head of TV sales Scott Borden, “In one way or another, the show will be seen in 160 countries this year.”

In order to please many viewers, the show will aim to focus on a diverse range of sports and nationalities as well as entertain the nonsports fan.

“In our first year we recognized that while the central proposition is sport, the awards show needs to be presented in an entertaining way,” notes Iain Banner, Laureus CEO and Richemont’s director, global sponsorships and communications.

Laureus tapped Celador, the London-based producer behind quiz phenom “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” to mount this year’s two-hour spectacle, which will include ice-dancers, cheerleaders, gymnasts and country music sensation LeAnn Rimes, who will be on hand to sing the newly commissioned Laureus anthem, “I Dream.”

Celador topper Paul Smith is insistent that the sports elements aren’t made frivolous by nonsports-relevant performances.

“There won’t be gratuitous pop stars singing their latest hit,” he says, adding, “there’s lots of surprises and we’d like to keep it that way.”

Last year’s show, hosted by Jeff Bridges, Ashley Judd and Dylan McDermott, drew an impressive array of sports figures and other luminaries, as well as a special visit by South African President Nelson Mandela. And HSH Prince Albert of Monaco was on hand to present the Sport for Good Award to Eunice Kennedy Shriver for her involvement in Special Olympics. (The 2001 host has yet to be confirmed.)

The balance of sport and entertainment continues with the planned activities surrounding the awards, including a celebrity regatta and golf tournament, which last year saw such participants as Sylvester Stallone and Samuel L. Jackson. A literal tie-in with entertainment will be highlighted by a Night of Sport and Film gala, for which most of the plans are tightly under wraps. Last year’s theme fete, held the night before the awards, focused on fashion and brought out the industry’s finest, including designers Jean Paul Gaultier, John Galliano and Stella McCartney, photographer Helmut Newton, as well as supermodels such as Naomi Campbell and Helena Christiansen.

At a time when there seem to be multiple awards shows for just about everything, the organizers behind the Laureus World Sports Awards are determined to make a lasting impression. When quizzed about competing sports kudos, Banner simply says: “A few projects survive and sustain — only through excellence, which is what we strive for.”

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