When a group of state dignitaries and local businessmen decided to race bobsleds on the new Olympic track here recently, Spencer F. Eccles, chief executive of First Security Corp., made sure he won handily.
"First off, he had four guys pushing his sled, and everyone else had just two," explained Thomas K. Welch, president of the Salt Lake Olympic Organizing Committee.
"Secondly, his guys all had spikes on their shoes; my guys had on gym shoes." Mr. Welch later learned that Mr. Eccles had promised his team a free dinner at his daughter's restaurant if they won.
"Spence hates to lose," Mr. Welch said.
The story is telling: The Winter Olympic Games, which will be hosted here in 2002, will be full of good cheer and camaraderie, but just beneath the surface lies a more serious sense that there's a lot at stake here.
And there is-a huge marketing opportunity, big money, and possibly a push by some of the country's largest banks into the market.
Mr. Eccles' First Security, the largest bank in the state, with $14.7 billion of assets, and to a lesser degree Zions Bancorp., with $6.8 billion, have been leaders in the effort to first get and then put on the 2002 Games.
There's still a lot of work to do, including figuring out how they might want to work with the big bank that will likely become the official bank sponsor of the games.
Indeed, though the games are still a full five years away, negotiations are under way at the moment to determine which financial institution will be the official bank sponsor of the Olympics, according to people familiar with the situation.
NationsBank Corp., which has the right of first refusal because it was the official sponsor of the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta, is interested, as is BankAmerica Corp., those familiar with the situation said.
A BankAmerica spokesman said that the bank received a proposal from the U.S. Olympic Committee to be a sponsor for the next four Olympics, which it would likely turn down, but talks are continuing. NationsBank wouldn't comment, other than to say that it would like to remain "affiliated with the Olympic movement."
But the snag for these two banks, both of which would likely covet the national and international exposure from the Olympics, is that NationsBank, of Charlotte, N.C., has no market presence here, and San Francisco-based BankAmerica's is limited.
That raises some interesting questions, such as: Does the official bank sponsor need to have a local presence? And if so, are the benefits of the sponsorship enough to make one of these banks want to enter the market in some way, either through a temporary partnership with Mr. Eccles' bank, for example, or by acquisition?
"The Olympics is so national in scope that you don't necessarily have to have a presence in the city to identify yourself with the games," said Joseph K. Morford, an analyst with Alex. Brown & Sons Inc. in San Francisco.
A spokesman from the U.S. Olympic Committee said sponsors typically have some sort of presence in the host city, even if it's just temporary.
Few would argue that the Olympics alone would be enough for one of these banks, or others, to make an acquisition here. But it might be a factor, particularly given the state's and the region's recent astronomical growth- Utah had the second-highest employment growth in the country last year, with 6%. No. 1 was neighboring Nevada, with 7.8%.
"The Olympics themselves are only two weeks long," said David Baugh, the Salt Lake Olympic Committee's accountant. "So it has to make some really good financial sense for a bank to move in here long-term. But if one of them is on the fence, the Olympics might be enough to bring them over."
It has happened before. Just six months before the 1996 Atlanta Games, NationsBank completed a $1.7 billion-dollar deal for Atlanta-based Bank South Corp.
That deal, however, was a fill-in acquisition for the bank, not a market extension. Scott Screedon, a NationsBank spokesman, said "there was absolutely no connection" between the acquisition and the bank's sponsorship of the games.
But it nevertheless did provide the bank with a strong presence in Atlanta when it came time to providing bank services for the three million visitors to those games.
If such an acquisition were to occur in Salt Lake City, there are only two potential targets-Zions and First Security, which together control more than 50% of the state's deposits.
An acquisition would be a cruel blow to either of these banks, perhaps more so to Mr. Eccles of First Security, who was one of the pioneers of the Salt Lake City Olympics movement. A collegiate ski champion while at the University of Utah, Mr. Eccles is a board member of the organizing committee. He was also on the board of the committee that launched Salt Lake's bid a few years ago.
His official involvement dates back to the mid-1980s, but it has been a dream of his and of the city's to host the Winter Games for more than 30 years.
The city, in fact, first tried to get the games in 1966 and failed in three subsequent attempts-losing by only four votes to Nagano, Japan, for the 1998 Winter Games-before it landed them on its fifth try, in June 1995.
First Security and Zions have been supportive of the city's efforts throughout.
The two banks are part of a five-bank consortium providing the organizing committee with a $25 million line of credit until the big money comes in from television rights and national sponsorships. U.S. Bancorp, Banc One Corp., KeyCorp, and Wells Fargo & Co. are the other participating banks.
About 43% of the estimated $920 million budget, in fact, will come from the sponsorships.
Sponsorships for these games may be more desirable than those for previous Olympics because they will be good for an eight-year period, rather than just four years as in the past. This will allow official sponsors to use their Olympic affiliation well after the Salt Lake Games are over.
And, unlike the situation in Atlanta, the Olympic organizing committee this time around wants to preserve the exclusivity of the sponsorships by not splitting categories into ever narrower niches-such as having both an official foreign car and an official domestic car of the games.
As a result of these changes, the sponsorships for the Salt Lake City Games will be a lot more expensive, probably in the $80 million range-more than double the rate for the Atlanta Games.
But most marketing experts said the costs are worth it, particularly for an event that is expected to be seen by up to two-thirds of the world's population. Not to mention the 100,000 or so visitors that are expected to show up each day for the events.
First Security and Zions don't have the resources to be the official bank sponsor, or the interest, but they do want to continue their strong involvement in the games, officials from both banks said.
The economic windfall, for one, is expected to be significant and enduring, according to the state's budget office, a situation that will only circulate more dollars through the local banks.
The budget office estimates the games will generate 20,000 new jobs for one year and add $1.8 billion to Utah's economy. Most of the athletic venues have already been built, but a slew of projects, from widening the freeway to building the Olympic village, are about to get under way- projects the local banks will partly finance.
"Everybody in town has pitched in on this thing," said Harris H. Simmons, CEO of Zions. "And I think everybody realizes the impact will be enormous, not just in terms of short-term jobs and construction, but it will create a much greater awareness of the city around the world as a destination resort."