Business & Economy

Could LA host the 2024 Olympics without breaking the bank?

The Opening Ceremony at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, which ran a surplus.
The Opening Ceremony at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, which ran a surplus.
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With the city of Boston no longer in the running to host the 2024 Olympics, many think Los Angeles could be the replacement bidder to host the summer games.

The mere possibility of that had Angelinos wondering what hosting the Olympics would cost, and who would pick up the tab.

Any mayor who wants a shot at hosting the Olympics has to sign a contract stipulating that if the games go over budget, (all of them have in recent years, to the tune of billions of dollars) then taxpayers of the host city will cover it.

It’s a deal Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said he couldn’t make.

“I refuse to put Boston on the hook for overruns,” Walsh told reporters Monday.

Unless Olympics organizers suddenly have a change of heart, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti would have to sign the same agreement next year if he chooses to submit Los Angeles as a host bidder (if chosen to replace Boston, Los Angeles would be up against other foreign bidders like Paris and Rome. The International Olympic Committee will choose the host city for the 2024 games in 2017).

Garcetti's office has not met with the United States States Olympic Committee for months, not since Boston was chosen over Los Angeles. His office declined to be interviewed as did Casey Wasserman, who helped lead the city's Olympics bid.

"We haven't spoken with the USOC," Jeff Millma, who is Garcetti's point-person on the Olympics, wrote in an e-mail. "But if we bid, our city’s existing world class venues would make an Olympics in Los Angeles profitable just as was in 1984."

Because L.A. already has so many sports facilities – from the Coliseum to Dodger Stadium to a likely NFL stadium – it could host the Olympics more cheaply than Boston.

“I think our bid was the most affordable,” Garcetti told The Los Angeles Times after making a presentation to the United States Olympic Committee in December. “L.A. is an Olympic town. We’re wired for the Olympics.”

When Los Angeles hosted the Olympics in 1984, the games were such a financial success that they ran a surplus, the proceeds from which established an endowment which still funds youth sports in the city. 

But Jules Boykoff, a professor at Pacific University who studies the Olympics, says a lot have changed since then. The requirements for hosting an Olympics have increased to the degree that the idea of any host city ending in the black today is extremely unlikely.

"We've seen a huge spike in the number of participants, so it's just more expensive," said Boykoff. "And, after the terrorist attacks of 2001 the price of security has gone through the roof."

There are other big expenses, like building an Olympic village and a media center, and updating infrastructure, according to Andrew Zimbalist, a professor of Economics at Smith College and author of the new book, “Circus Maximus: The Economic Gamble Behind Hosting the Olympics and the World Cup.” 

"Boston was budgeting $2.8 billion for their Olympics village," Zimbalist said. "London spent $500 million on their broadcast and media center."

But Boykoff says there is one way to host the Olympics and not use public money on overruns: Garcetti could raise private funds instead.

“It wouldn’t be an easy road, but there’s a lot of money moving around Los Angeles,” said Boykoff.