Orleans Hotel/Convention Center, Las Vegas

October 14-15




By Bill Dobbins

The lighting at the finals wasn't bad, just too dim. However, the light behind the competitors was
disproportionately bright and the illumination was uneven across the width of the stage.



To begin with, I am an avid supporter of female physique competition and have both a professional and emotional investment in the future of the IFBB and the Olympia.  For the women to be successful, the federation and the Olympia organizers have to be successful.  So I take no pleasure in having to write bad reviews of the Olympia weekend or the conduct of the Ms. Olympia, Olympia Fitness or Olympia Figure events.  I would like nothing better than to say that the weekend was a total success and that everyone was happy with the skill of the organizers and the quality of the production.


Unfortunately, I can't do that.  The Olympia Weekend was not a disaster.  But way too much went wrong and there were too many mistakes made in both planning and execution to overlook.  Hopefully, pointing out some of these will make for a much better Olympia in 2006.




On the plus side, many of us had been told that the Orleans Hotel and Casino, which replaced the Mandalay Bay this year, was a "dump."  This was not the case.  The Orleans is a perfectly acceptable hotel, it is less expensive than the Mandalay Bay, there is more variety of more affordable food and the Orleans Arena is a first-rate competition venue. 


There was some complaint that holding the Expo at the Convention Center, which is at least (if you are lucky) 20 minutes away, was inconvenient compared to the Mandalay Bay, which has its own space in which to hold an Expo.  However, while going from the hotel to the Expo was not as easy as walking from one end of the building to the other, it was not really a problem.  Visitors to the Arnold Weekend in Columbus every year are able to travel from various hotels to the Convention Center to the Veteran's Memorial Auditorium with no great difficulty.  Of course, Jim Lorimer uses more busses for transport than were available in Las Vegas, so this is one area in which the Olympia organizers should consider an upgrade.


But the Las Vegas Convention is an ideal place for an Expo, with a great deal of floor space.  Too much, in one sense, since so much room for the booths and attendees sometimes gave the impression it was less crowded than it actually was.   Prejudging for all the women's events was held in the Expo Hall to enable the audience to view the competition without additional charge – an approach pioneered in Columbus by the Arnold.  Whether or not the organizers at either contest are losing money by have free prejudging for the women has never been determined.  But since there is so little promotion for female bodybuilding, fitness or figure during the year (and more about this later) it may well be that selling tickets for women's prejudging might be a problem under these circumstances.



Before the weekend even got underway, fans of female bodybuilding were outraged by the decision of AMI/Weider, organizer of the Olympia, to demote the Ms. Olympia finals from Friday night at the Orleans Arena to Saturday afternoon in the Expo Hall.  We heard all sorts of explanations for this.   One event official stated this was because AMI/Weider was trying to promote their Friday night pay-per-view broadcast and believed that including women bodybuilders would hurt ticket sales.  Another said this was done to help the female bodybuilders by giving them a chance to be seen by an audience that would be unwilling to pay for prejudging tickets.


Rationalizations aside, this decision would seem to be totally in line with the policy of AMI/Weider to give little or no attention to female bodybuilders in either Flex or Muscle & Fitness.  You would think, if you own the most prestigious bodybuilding event in the world and it features both male and female competitors, and you also have two highly successful physique publications, that you would use your magazines and their associated websites to promote ALL the competitors and help sell a lot more tickets.  This is Business & Promotion 101, but that's not that the AMI/Weider people have decided to do.

Even though it was demoralizing having the Ms. Olympia finals demoted to the Expo Hall,
the lighting was brighter and we were closer to the stage to see the women and shoot photos.

This demotion of female bodybuilding has had a demoralizing effect on the women competitors themselves and many of their fans.  The resulting lack of interest in the Ms. Olympia 2005 has a precedent.  Many years ago, when Lenda Murray was the reigning Ms. Olympia, the poster that came out to promote the event featured a pretty but hardly competitive female bodybuilder and relegated Lenda is the mention of "also competing."  Some promotional genius had decided this would appeal more to a "mainstream" audience and increase ticket sales.  It had the opposite affect.  Lenda received all sorts of letters and calls from fans who told her they would not be attending the Olympia that year because they didn't want to see her humiliated on stage and cheated out of her deserved victory.  The promoter ended up having to give away tickets to fill up the theater. 


Who knows how many fans of female bodybuilding decided not to attend the Olympia in 2005 because of how the women bodybuilders were being treated?  How many contest and Expo tickets were not sold?   How many hotel rooms were not booked?  How many restaurant meals were not ordered? 


If there is a problem selling tickets to the Friday finals when it includes FBBs, why is Jim Lorimer able to do it in Columbus?  There aren't as many tickets sold for Friday at the Arnold as for the men on Saturday, but Lorimer sells enough to make money from the event.  If one promoter is able to do this successfully and the Olympia is not, perhaps the Olympia promoters need to go to school on how things are done in Columbus and change their strategy.


There was also the question of no backstage access to any but Weider reporters or photographers.  The rationale seems to be that AMI/Weider is promoting the event and so should retain exclusive rights to the backstage area.  Fine – if you are talking about the Mr. Olympia.  But the Weider publications give very little promotion and publicity to any of the women and certainly almost none to female bodybuilding.  So what good is it to have Weider photographers backstage shooting pictures that will never be used?  Instead, AMI/Weider ought to be ENCOURAGING photographers and reporters to the dressing rooms and pump-up areas when the women are competing.  They should be trying to get as much publicity and promotion for the women as possible from other publications because THIS HELPS SELL TICKETS. 

"Meet The Champs" is an interesting part of the Olympia Weekend that continued in 2005

There is also the matter of the "press conference." The female and the male competitors squeezed into a small room with a lot of fans and not much sign of the non-physique press. No real questions, just more of that "are you going to kick so-and-so's ass this year?" What about physique stars outside in a mall or appearing at the biggest gym in town? Do something that attracts the local TV channels and reporters. This attempt at a press conference accomplished nothing but entertaining people who had already decided whether or not to buy tickets to the contests.


AMI/Weider is headed by David Pecker, who by all accounts is a smart man and a good businessman.  It was Pecker who came up with the brilliant idea of buying up the warring Florida tabloids and to create a situation in which they increased circulation by dividing up the potential audience without stepping on each other's toes.  I can only conclude that bad business decisions seemingly coming from Pecker are the result of bad information and advice coming from those he has entrusted with the organizing of the Olympia and deciding on the content of the Weider magazines.  He has no great experience of the world of physique competition or what the audience for physique magazines best respond to.  As any CEO in his position, he has to delegate and depend on advisers


One would hope – for all our sake's – that Mr. Pecker upgrades the quality of his inner council in the future.  And that the IFBB would step up and insist that ANY contest promoter make plans that are also in the best interests of the federation and the competitors to whom it is responsible. A rising tide lifts all boats. A sink hole takes everything down with it.



The Orleans Arena turned out to be an ideal venue badly used.  To begin with, the lighting was too dim.  It wasn't bad lighting, there just wasn't enough of it.  When this happens, it is usually because the lighting director made sure the lighting was adequate for television but gave no thought to the judges, the still photographers or the audience.  Modern television cameras are so sensitive and so forgiving that they can make a foggy day look bright and cheerful.  But the rule of thumb for ANY production director should be simple: light for the still cameras and EVERYBODY will be happy.  The judges and audience will be able to see the stage and it will look great on television as well.


Additionally, the lighting behind the competitors was too bright, making them almost look silhouetted. But this would be rectified by simply increasing the light on them from the front. However, an effort also has to be made to make the light even across the stage when you have full line-ups. This was a problem for both the women on Friday and the men in the Mr. Olympia finals.


Of course, it took the Arnold about 10 years to get their lighting right this so getting through to lighting directors obviously isn't easy.  Let's hope they are quicker on the uptake at the Olympia.


Another problem was the seating arrangements.  In a system developed by former Olympia promoter Wayne Demilia, the VIP ticket holders sit up front, the judges behind them and the photographers still further back.  This puts the judges and photographers WAY too far back.  Especially given the low level of the light.  John Balik of Iron Man was using a super-expensive 500 MM lens and he was about the only photographer getting any kind of close-ups of the women on the stage.  Who knows how the distance from the stage might have affected the judging.

The lighting should have been about twice as bright. These photos were exposed at the equivalent of 1000 ASA.
But that wouldn't have fixed the problem of heads continuely in the way of the photographers - as you can see.


Again, if you look at how things are done in Columbus you'll find the judges sit in front, the photographers (only two rows) sit behind them and the VIPs behind the photographers.  I don't recall any VIPs at the Arnold complaining because they were sitting 30 feet from the stage instead of 10 feet.  So, all in all,  it's obvious that putting the VIPs so close in Las Vegas is a BAD IDEA – bad for the judges and bad for the photographers who generate the kind of publicity and promotion that helps sell tickets next year.


In addition to sitting so far back, the photographers were not able to get unobstructed shots of the stage during the women's events.  Because there had to be a broad, flat surface for the fitness women to do their routines, the stage throughout Friday night was too low (the Mr. Olympia competitors stood on a raised platform).  All we could see from the photographers' rows were the heads of the judges – with the occasional added obstruction of VIPs who stood up in our line up site in order to shoot photos of their own.


This was equally a problem for the Weider photographers as for everyone else, so you would think that AMI/Weider, publisher of physique magazines, would be as concerned as anyone.  However, it is not likely there will be much coverage of fitness or figure, much less female bodybuilding, in these publications.  So that may be why the promoters weren't motivated to create a better working environment for the still photographers.


Unfortunately, what was happening on stage was also hampered to some degree by amateurish production.  The women came out in the wrong order so that the Emcees didn't know what name to announce.  There were instances of the wrong music being played (which, to be honest, happens sometmes at the best of contests).  But even more disturbing was the inclusion in the Friday finals of a Mr. Olympia "Wild Card" event.  Fans who bought tickets to see the women compete found that something like half the evening was taken up by a contest featuring men who were not good enough to qualify for the Mr. Olympia vying for a chance to compete on stage on Saturday night.  Taking nothing away from a line-up of very good bodybuilders, but they were not Olympia quality and – even more to the point – THEY WERE NOT WOMEN! 


I talked to one of the expediters afterwards who was surprised that the men took up so much time and kept coming back out on stage time after time.  This was not what was supposed to happen according to the schedule he had been given.  The fitness and figure women were forced to stand around backstage and wait – and when they did get out in front of the audience they didn't even do their scheduled quarter turns.  It was obvious that somebody had decided that, even though the fans had bought tickets to see women, what they really wanted to see a lot of non-Olympia quality men.


The women competitors were treated as an after-thought during what was supposed to be the Finals of figure and fitness competition.


This was just another sign that whoever was making the decisions of AMI/Weider seems to have a low opinion of female competitors and didn't consider them to be very important to the success of the event.  (I won't even go into the absurdity and insult of the "Challenge Round" on Saturday night since that is not a woman's issue and outside the scope of this report.)


There were all sorts of other indications of confusion and lack of organization during the weekend.  At the Mr. Olympia finals, backstage microphones didn't function, people kept coming out on stage to interrupt the Emcee (poor Mike Adamle) with unexpected announcements and awards.  One of these awards was given to David Pecker himself, who looked thoroughly uncomfortable being involved in such disorganized goings-on.


All in all, there just seemed to be too much attention paid to micro-management and not enough to planning and organization.  I know when I was shooting women's prejudging at the Expo, security people (all friends of mine) kept coming over and apologetically telling me I couldn't shoot from the corner of the stage, and then from beside the stage. It turned out the head organizer of the whole event was standing in the background and giving these instructions as to where I was or was not allowed to shoot from.  Aside from the fact that photographing from angles gives better photo layouts and is therefore to the benefit of the event – and that I was careful not to block anyone's view – DIDN'T THE GUY HAVE ANYTHING BETTER TO DO THAN DECIDE WHAT THE PHOTOGRAPHERS SHOULD BE DOING?  Isn't that the kind of thing the head-organizers ought to be delegating?  Perhaps his attention should have been better directed to trying to prevent the finals from turning into some kind of Chinese fire drill.

Shooting at different angles helps create more interesting layouts - and better publcity for the competitors and the promoters.


And this was only one example.  I talked to Wayne Gallash of Australia who was doing video interviews at the Expo.  The same organizer came up to him and told him he was blocking an aisle and had to do his interviews somewhere else.  Well, maybe he was blocking traffic and maybe he wasn't.  The point is – why was the individual charged with organizing and overseeing the whole promotion of AMI/Weider involving himself with whether aisles at the Expo were obstructed?  There should be other people given that responsibility.  Given this nit-picking and micro-management, no wonder so much went wrong at the Olympia 2005!



There is no reason why AMI/Weider, which is a big and successful organization full of smart and capable people, cannot get its act together and create a first rate, successful and fully enjoyable Olympia Weekend.  It would be to everyone's benefit – including their own – to do so.  But a number of changes are going to have to be made:

  1. Rely on producers and organizers who have a better understanding of the physique world and it's audience and who are capable of creating a production team that makes fewer mistakes.
  2. Don't disrespect the women competitors – not just the female bodybuilders, but the fitness and figure women as well.  Have ALL the women compete on Friday night and don't include some made-up event like a "Wild Card" men's contest. Or, if you do, keep it short and sweet.
  3. Promote and publicize the women of the Olympia ALL YEAR LONG in the Weider magazines.  This will sell tickets to the events, to pay-per-view and increase the attendance at the Expo.
  4. Open up the backstage and dressing rooms to reporters and photographers during the women's events.  The female bodybuilders, fitness and figure competitors need all the publicity they can get.
  5. Brighten up the lighting in the Arena.  If it looks good to the still photographers, it looks good to everyone.
  6. Seat the photographers and judges ahead of the VIPs instead of behind them.  If Jim Lormer can make this work, so can the Olympia.
  7. Use a producer who can make sure the Friday and Saturday finals run smoothly – on schedule, as scheduled, no technical problems or confusion.  Have competent people focusing on each area of the weekend, with the head organizers coordinating their efforts, not micro-managing.
  8. Remember, this is the OLYMPIA – the most prestigious title in physique competition.  Give it the respect and effort it deserves.