Business & Economy

Why LA is on the verge of getting the Olympics again

An artist rendering of L.A. track and field venue at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for the 2024 or 2028 Olympics.
An artist rendering of L.A. track and field venue at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for the 2024 or 2028 Olympics.
L.A. 2024

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It appears increasingly likely that the International Olympic Committee’s executive board will recommend steps on Friday that could lead to awarding the 2024 Olympics to Paris and 2028 to Los Angeles. 

Since Paris has always been the favorite for 2024 and President Donald Trump is unpopular around the world, getting the 2028 Games would represent a significant come-from-behind win for L.A. 

"Given some of the challenges we face globally right now with leadership, that would be I think quite a coup and something for us all to celebrate," L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti said last week.

Moreover, L.A. wasn’t even the original American choice for 2024. When Boston was the surprise selection in 2015, L.A. was assumed to be out of the running again, just as it was when it tried for the 2016 and 2020 Games.

But in a matter of months, Boston’s bid unraveled amidst a public outcry about cost-overruns and a lack of transparency, and the U.S. Olympic Committee ended up swapping in L.A. at the last minute.

Shortly thereafter, L.A leaders held their first press conference at Santa Monica beach to emphasize L.A. is everything Boston is not: A diverse, forward-looking city with strong public support for the Olympics. Most of all, L.A. would host the Olympics for just $5.3 billion, a bargain-basement price as far as Olympics go.

The city says it would raise the money by selling broadcast rights  and corporate sponsorships, and through ticket sales.

"We have developed an initial plan for the games that is prudent, that is responsible, and that is fully achievable and is completely sustainable," Garcetti said.

Some, such as former longtime L.A. Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, were skeptical L.A.’s bid would turn out to be as low-budget as advertised.

At first, the bid committee considered developing a rail yard next to the L.A. River to house the athlete’s village, a risky plan city council members and the city controller warned could end up costing billions. In the end the committee went with a far cheaper alternative: The UCLA campus.

Another strong selling point: L.A.’s bid doesn’t require a single new permanent venue because most everything is already built, such as the Rose Bowl, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and Staples Center.

"It goes from spectacular venues to impressive venues to mind blowing venues," said Patrick Baumann, chair of the IOC’s evaluation commission last month, after three days of busing around to proposed venues. "In L.A. there is no major risk that we can highlight."

Baumann added: "The Olympic spirit is incredibly strong in this city. The legacy of 1984 lives on."

Follow the sun 

L.A.’s bid has tried to evoke the nostalgia of the 1984 Games – hosted by L.A. and the last to turn a profit – while also trying to avoid a feeling of "been there, done that." To that end, Gene Sykes, CEO of LA 2024, says the group's slogan, "Follow the Sun," is not about the city's warm weather.

"Follow the sun is actually about looking at the future, focusing on what’s next," said Sykes. 

Any negative campaigning is strictly prohibited, though L.A.’s futuristic focus - reinvention, tech, youth – serves as a stark contrast to old-world Paris. But whereas past American bids have been accused of being heavy handed, L.A. has tried a softer touch this time around.

"It’s caused us to think and present differently than we were speaking to a U.S. audience," said Sykes.

Skyes has to strike a delicate balance, because a central theme of L.A.’s bid has been the Olympic movement needs Los Angeles because the games have become so bloated and costly that few cities – especially in Democratic countries – want to host them anymore. Rome, Hamburg and Budapest all dropped out of the competition for the 2024 games.

Last month, a foreign reporter asked Garcetti how L.A. makes the "save the Olympics argument" without seeming arrogant.

"We want to not be that American bid," Garcetti replied. "It’s not just, L.A. and America is here to save the Olympics. The Olympics is here to save America and L.A. too. It works both directions. We need each other."

The Trump effect

Some have worried the election of Donald Trump and his subsequent policies and statements have undermined L.A.’s  message.

Sykes pushed back against that idea, arguing that the Trump administration has actually been more engaged than Preaident Obama’s, offering to set up meetings and help with visas.

He cited an incident that occurred after Trump's first proposed immigration ban, when the administration intervened after a group of Iranian archers on their way to Las Vegas for a World Cup competition were turned back at the airport.

"As soon as they learned they had created a problem for us they said, 'We’ll help you. We’ll solve the problem,'" Sykes said at a March forum in Santa Monica. "They’ve set up a team in the White House to help us."

Sykes also acknowledged that "the President presents an image which is a challenging image for some of these voters. They don’t like the anti-immigrant stance. They don’t like the presumed anti-Muslim rhetoric. All that is alarming to them. We’ve heard it. We continue to hear it. It’s an issue."

David Wallechinsky, president of the International Society of Olympic Historians, says there’s no getting around the fact that most IOC voters are repelled by Trump.

"There’s a very bad feeling towards Donald Trump around the world," he said. "They don’t want him and they don’t like him. He couldn’t do anything to help the bid."

Instead of freezing out the U.S. altogether, the IOC seems to be favoring the idea of giving L.A. the Games in 2028.

The IOC is well aware that Trump will be long out of office by then, said Ann Pegoraro, director of the Institute for Sport Marketing at Laurentian University.

"Four more years out gives the time and the hope that the U.S. situation will have changed dramatically enough to become a welcoming country," she said.