Tuesday’s United States Olympic Committee (USOC) meeting with four prospective bid cities vying to host the Olympic Games in 2024 will be a giant leap forward, and away from October 2, 2009 when America’s last bid for the Games was demolished, along with the committee’s business-as-usual process.
On that day I reported:
“An audible gasp echoed through the host Bella Center illustrating the shock shared by most who were observing the election. Chicago bid members were embarassed, the press were confused, hyped-up fans on Chicago streets were disoriented and the IOC members were unapologetic.”
Chicago was eliminated on the first ballot just hours after President Barack Obama plead with International Olympic Committee (IOC) members to award the 2016 Olympic Games to his home town. The rejection only compounded the sting first felt when America’s beloved New York City placed fourth of five cities pursuing the 2012 Olympic Games only four years earlier.
That culminating moment was enough to force the USOC to take a long, hard look within.
An immediate goal was to renegotiate an unbalanced revenue-sharing agreement with the IOC that many members perceived as unfair causing them to harbour resentment against the USOC. That was corrected in 2012.
While sitting out the next three consecutive Summer and Winter Games bids, the USOC reinvented itself from top-to-bottom with a new board, a new charter, a new vision and a new mission. But one clear goal remained, to bid for and host a Summer Olympic Games.
It’s clear, the Summer Games is the prize the USOC wants. Despite diligent attempts by organizations from Reno-Tahoe, Salt Lake City, Denver and Bozeman, Montana to bid for a Winter Games – the USOC turned down a campaign for the 2022 Olympics that in retrospect would have placed The United States in a strong position against the remaining candidates – Beijing and Almaty Kazakhstan.
New USOC CEO Scott Blackmun led a more informal, collaborative process to select an applicant for the 2024 Olympic Games that started with an invitation to several cities. The initial discussions happened under a veil of secrecy but the results were eventually revealed in a short list that included Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington. The USOC goal is to select a bid that is winnable on the international stage, and if that’s not possible – to not bid at all.
But suddenly the campaign took on the look of a full-on domestic campaign with Websites, branding, social media, videos and organized opposition.
Boston’s bid ( 2024boston.org, @boston2024 ) has been a vocal one on both sides of the equation. With well developed social media, marketing and a positive story and dialogue the bid committee bid President Dan O’Connell and his team featuring several Olympians are doing many things right. But the well-established opposition would lead you to believe otherwise.
No Boston Olympics is an organization trying to add transparency to the the bid claiming that the economic benefit of the Games are overstated and the actual costs understated, and to their credit they have organized open public forums to debate the issues – something the bid committee itself probably should have scheduled.
As a result, public opinion is closely split with those in favour having the slight edge. Boston’s challenge to prepare for the Games would be the construction of a temporary Olympic stadium near the city centre and an athletes’ village nearby, as well as transportation upgrades.
Los Angeles has done this before, both in 1932 and 1984 – and organizers have a wealth of intellectual and physical legacy to leverage for a 2024 bid. Perhaps though, L.A. organizers are taking this for granted in this high-stakes race as they haven’t committed much to marketing efforts at this point. Maybe they don’t need to.
With many venue options, L.A. can be flexible with plans that involve modern sites, historic sites and choices in between.
There seems to be little opposition in Southern California where many still have memories of the previous L.A. games – but perhaps that’s the biggest hurdle. Hollywood storytellers may be on call to create compelling reasons why the City of Angels should enjoy a third instalment of the Games. Or they may simply point to the success of London 2012 – a Games that completed the U.K. trilogy.
Washington, D.C. ( dc2024.org, @dc2024 ) also has the physical ability and desire to host the Games; but it also has an obstacle embedded right in its name that practically rules out the bid almost from the start. International perception of America’s Capital is tightly connected with politics, war, economic sanctions and CIA cover-ups, all leading to poor connotations.
D.C. marketers know this well and they’ve tried to soften an ill will with a fun video that emphasizes sport, and friendly, cooperative politicians. But they could have done one better and left out the politicians altogether.
The USOC passed on D.C. for 2016 and they’ll likely do the same this time around unless they want to bear the risk that the next political crisis occurs shortly before the host city is elected in 2017.
Then there is San Francisco ( sf2024.org, @sf2024 ), the last piece to the USOC’s puzzle. The Bay Area was also in the running for the 2016 nomination that was won by Chicago, but suddenly withdrew when a proposed new stadium deal collapsed leaving the city’s plans in disarray.
This time, a temporary Olympic stadium is proposed and other venues would be spread out from San Francisco to Palo Alto to San Jose in order to leverage many existing facilities. The $340 million recyclable Olympic stadium in Brisbane, south of San Francisco and an athlete’s village proposed for Hunter’s Point, which would late be converted into affordable housing – would anchor organizer’s plans.
Local opposition in the Bay Area has been light, but experience from San Francisco’s failed domestic bids for 2008, 2012 and 2016 show that special interest groups could materialize at any time posing a threat to the bid moving forward.
The window is wide open for a United States bid for 2024. If you look at the numbers, it will have been 22 years since any Games was in the U.S. (Salt Lake City 2002 Winter Games) and 28 years since Atlanta 1996 – quite a long time for the IOC’s most successful and lucrative national Olympic committee partner. The USOC has said often that it will only submit a bid it thinks can win – and in doing so they will be making the assumptions that any resentment from the previous revenue-sharing agreement and difficulties with the USOC board are well in the past. This bid will be the first test of those assumptions and the extensive work the USOC has done in the last few years.
Still, the bid will need to defeat opponents with stories of their own – Paris has bid three times recently without success and Istanbul five times in the last six cycles. A winning South African bid would host the Games for the first time in its continent – a proposition that worked well when Rio bid for 2016. Also in the mix could be Doha, Baku, Budapest – and already declared Rome and either Hamburg or Berlin from Germany.
The USOC will surely choose to bid when they decide their direction Tuesday; the opportunity will never be better. They city they choose to move forward with is another question – one they may also answer Tuesday after viewing presentations, or hold off another few weeks.
But winning with the chosen bid on the international stage will be far from a sure thing. Who can tell what 100-or-so IOC members will decide when they each cast a secret ballot and have varying affiliations, interests and agendas? Maybe nothing has changed at all.
The IOC opens its new “invitation phase” of the bid process January 15 and applications are due by September 15. The final decision of the host city for 2024 will be made at the 130th IOC Session in Lima, Peru in 2017.