BidWeek: Why Does It Take So Long for the IOC To Choose a Host City?

Paris 2024 Tweets the voyages of its bid logo - this time to the Cannes Film Festival
Paris 2024 Tweets the voyages of its bid logo – this time to the Cannes

BidWeek, Reporting From Toronto, Canada – Apple’s Siri tells me it’s been 254 days since the September 15 International Olympic Committee (IOC) nomination deadline for bids hoping to host the 2024 Olympic Games.  That’s over eight months ago.

Yet there are still 474 days until the IOC finally elects a winner at its 130th all-members session scheduled to be held September 13, 2017 in Lima, Peru – almost 16 months from now.

So why am I crunching the calendar?  Because it seems like this Olympic bid race, like many others in the past, is taking forever.  Does it actually seem like it’s been more than eight months already?  If so, you’re correct if you include the IOC’s new invitation stage that opened up the process in January 2015 – fully 16 months ago.

Why does it take almost three years for the IOC to pick a host city?

After the gun fired in September, the five bids pulled out of the gate quickly.  Venue announcements and key personnel appointments followed as the contenders pulled together the first part of their bid books that were due in February.  Amid the excitement was the surprising referendum defeat by Hamburg, forcing the German city to withdraw from the race.  Logos, taglines, sponsor announcements and big events were constantly being released adding to the momentum – and to the excitement for people that pay attention to these things.

2024 Olympic bid books Were delivered to the IOC on USB drives for the first time (IOC Photo)
2024 Olympic bid books Were delivered to the IOC on USB drives for the first time (IOC Photo)

Now that the calming of summer is almost upon the Northern Hemisphere where the current bid cities are situated, things seem to be slowing down – at least for observers.  From the inside, bid teams are heads down preparing the second part of their bid books not due until October 7, and getting ready for the Rio Olympic Games in August.  Compelling headlines, at least in the current bidding world, are minimal.

Certainly, transformational news headlines are abundant in other areas of sport business – especially with respect to alleged corruption at past Olympics and with past bids – but amongst 2024 host city hopefuls Budapest, Los Angeles, Paris and Rome this week’s news included second-tier staff appointments, a new sponsor announcement and an unsurprising draft bill supporting the Games in Hungary.

Also, news that a Rome city council decision ‘undid’ a potential referendum for Italy’s bid seemed to further defer developments until proponents of the vote make their next move.

Let’s review the key functions of a bid committee.  First, and seemingly foremost, the team needs to develop a hosting plan complete with proposed venues, a Games concept and other functional requirements such as budgets, guarantee approvals and strategies.  Venue approvals need to be received from the related International Federations.  The bulk of these details will be included in the three-volume bid book that often weighs in at about 600 pages in length.

Spoiler Alert:  Most IOC members will not read a majority of the content of these books – only a handful of people in the IOC Bid Evaluation Commission will glean what is necessary from the colorful, professionally produced documents.  And often the plans are only theoretical with bids changing them if they win the honor to deliver.  Among recent significant changes, both PyeongChang 2018 and Tokyo 2020 later modified Olympic Stadium plans from what was originally proposed at bid time.

Couldn’t these documents be trimmed to more efficient reports – containing only the data necessary for an evaluation, and created in a fraction of the time and at minimal cost?

Rome 2024 Bid Book - Phase 1 (Click to download)
Rome 2024 Bid Book, Stage 1 – who will read it?

More critically, a bid needs to be sold – both to the domestic population and to about 100-or-so IOC members and their key influencers in international sport.  Communications experts are employed to arrange advertising, promotions and events designed to sell Olympism locally – and lobbying experts are engaged to bring the bid’s message to those who will vote on election day.

In 2014 IOC President Thomas Bach introduced Agenda 2020 and promised changes to the bid process that would make it easier, and less expensive to make a run at hosting the Games.  He didn’t exactly say more time efficient, though.

IOC Executive Director Christophe Dubi presents bid changes at 128th IOC Session (IOC Photo)
IOC Executive Director Christophe Dubi presents bid changes at 128th IOC Session (IOC Photo)

Why can’t this all happen in, say, a year?  Wouldn’t that cut costs, even if just from a staffing perspective?

The long part of this equation is developing the plan and conducting a successful domestic marketing campaign.  The solution?  These could begin in the domestic phase, where they belong, before the IOC gets a lock on the process.  Too, it’s probably a constructive exercise to see if the bid is viable on the international stage before it even gets there (see Hamburg 2024 referendum loss and subsequent withdrawal.)

Only when public support polls well enough and viable plans and approvals are effectively in place does the international campaign begin by the IOC accepting nominations, or applications – lets not get hung up on the semantics.

The IOC has already eliminated the short list qualification process starting with 2024, effectively committing all bids to the arduous two year marathon – so why not just cut to the chase instead?  IOC rules prohibit any international marketing activities until next year any way.

To be realistic, at this point still months ahead of the election, IOC members don’t have the 2024 cities on their radars.  They have far more immediate issues at hand and the Rio Games just weeks away.

Wouldn’t it have made more sense to ‘launch’ the bid process this September instead?

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Sure, the interested candidates would need to get started before the deadline, as they do now, after getting the IOC provided requirements ahead of time.  But they would still be able to meet an October or November deadline for bid documents.  Or, if we switch back to the old system – make the full proposal due next January.  The site visits can still follow in February and March with evaluation reports and IOC member presentations in June or July before the September election.

A shorter timeline would mean we could skip months of tedious daily social media updates from bid marketing teams who could instead concentrate all resources on a single year.  Yes, we’ll miss Tweets of some of those beautiful @LA2024 #FollowTheSun sunsets and the impressive journeys of the @Paris2024 Olympic bid logo – but we’ll survive and be better off for it.

For the lobbyists, the single year would still encompass all of the critical international meetings allowing for a comprehensive sales effort.

It sounds great, but it will never happen.

The IOC is a creature of habit, an organization bound by tradition.  But more importantly, bid campaigning by any number of candidates – especially in-and-around the Olympic Games dates – represents valuable marketing for the IOC.  Paris and Budapest have budgeted to spend almost $90 million (USD) each, with Rome and LA not far behind, to promote their bids and indirectly the Olympic movement.  But dollars aside, the media attention is also a boon to the movement, creating awareness and goodwill across some of the biggest sporting nations.

If the IOC can control these efforts for an additional year, they will.

I’m not sure what’s in store from the bids this summer, but if there continues to be a lack of real news during this campaign dormancy you can count on me to write another filler column like this one.

A senior producer and award-winning journalist covering Olympic bid business as founder of as well as providing freelance support for print and Web publications around the world. Robert Livingstone is a member of the Olympic Journalists Association and the International Society of Olympic Historians.

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