Plans to Organize and Promote Weider Bodybuilding Events

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- David Pecker, Chairman-CEO of American Media, is about to add on a new job title: Bodybuilding Impresario.
Weider's Mr. Olympia contest is the Super Bowl of bodybuilding.

American Media is entering into a coventure with the International Federation of Bodybuilders for the bodybuilding world's Super Bowl event: Mr. Olympia. Mr. Pecker also said that beginning next year, American Media would have a hand in creating and putting on two new pro bodybuilding events, the Joe Weider World Cup and the Joe Weider International Cup.

Bodybuilding empire
The IFBB was founded in 1946 by Joe and Ben Weider. The bodybuilding empire they built grew to include a vitamin and supplements unit and the Weider Publications portfolio of muscle and fitness magazines such as Flex and Shape. American Media bought Weider Publications in 2002 for $350 million.

"They wanted to get comfortable with me first," Mr. Pecker said, "before we would take the next step." He painted the partnerships for the bodybuilding events -- which often take place over a weekend, with "expos" featuring booths displaying sponsors' wares -- as a means to sell broader partnerships with advertisers, as well as an opportunity to win them greater exposure through broadcast deals.

"I see this as a big opportunity," Mr. Pecker said, to bring "the lifestyle of this industry to non-endemic advertisers."

Steroid allegations
Whether many mainstream advertisers will want their products to be associated with the world of modern bodybuilding remains to be seen. Even fans concede the comic-book-esque physiques it promotes cannot be achieved without use of performance-enhancement agents such as steroids, which are illegal. Major League Baseball is currently struggling with steroid allegations against many of its top stars, though the league has yet to suffer from any significant sponsor or fan backlash from an ongoing federal investigation. Prosecutors are looking into athletes' relationships with Victor Conte and his Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative, or Balco. (The investigation has affected athletes not only from baseball but also the National Football League and track and field who have been clients of Balco.)

Meanwhile, the winner of this year's Arnold Classic, another top bodybuilding event named after California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, was presented with a Hummer and a Rolex, although neither marketer was listed as a sponsor on the event's Web site. (Not surprisingly, the most prominent sponsors of Mr. Olympia and the Arnold Classic Weekend, which now encompasses a broad range of strength and fitness events, are supplements and exercise-related companies such as GNC, Met-RX and TwinLab.)

'Natural progression'
Jim Manion, president of the National Physique Committee -- the amateur relative of the pro IFBB -- dismissed the suggestion that the tight-knit bodybuilding world would look askance at the Weiders having lost some control over their bodybuilding contests. "It's a natural progression" from American Media's magazine deal. "I don't think there will be any problem with people accepting" Mr. Pecker's entrance onto the scene.

Earlier this year Mr. Pecker named Gov. Schwarzenegger executive editor of former Weider titles Flex and Muscle & Fitness, a largely honorary position that an aide told the Los Angeles Times would only take up a "nominal amount" of the governor's time.

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