Los Angeles has a significantly better bid than that of Paris for the 2024 Olympics.
In fact, the L.A. plan looks like the best all-around candidature, especially in its fiscal planning, from a city in a democratic nation during my 30 years of covering these bids. Los Angeles bid leaders began with a lot of advantages in terms of existing or soon-to-be-built venues and have been smart enough to make the most of them.
The 1984 Los Angeles Summer Games saved the International Olympic Committee financially. A 2024 Los Angeles Summer Games could have a similarly profound impact on the IOC’s ability to attract future bidders.
So there, I’ve said it.
And the reason why?
It comes from just one huge difference in the two strong bids, the difference that should mean the most to the International Olympic Committee at a time when almost no city in a democratic nation wants to be host of an Olympic Games, summer or winter, because of the financial peril involved. (Latest in a long list of recent dropouts: Stockholm, a wondrous city, as a potential candidate for the 2026 Winter Olympics.)
What truly separates Los Angeles from Paris is the U.S. candidate does not have to build an Olympic Village, a high-risk investment (ask Vancouver 2010 or London 2012).
It was a stroke of genius in January 2016 when L.A. bid organizers announced they were dropping the idea of housing athletes in a privately developed apartment complex east of downtown in favor of putting athletes in university-built housing on the UCLA campus.
The price tag on that earlier idea could have reached $2 billion. Even if the L.A. real estate market is blistering hot now, there would have been no guarantee the developer would avoid financial troubles that would leave Olympic organizers begging for city help. (Again, ask Vancouver or London.)
And L.A. also decided to use university-built housing on the USC campus to accommodate media – within walking distance of the Main Press Center.
Construction costs to L.A. 2024 for permanent work in the athletes and media villages: $0.
Paris, meanwhile, is planning Olympic and media villages with a combined cost of $1.8 billion in 2016 dollars ($2.0 billion in 2024 dollars) to be underwritten by a combination of private and public funds. Some 90 percent of that is projected as private funding by developers.
Lest Paris backers harp on the outdated idea that student housing isn’t of high enough quality, L.A. 2024 will be able to show the International Olympic Committee’s evaluation commission this week just how far that is from the truth.
In the 33 years since UCLA dorms were used as housing for athletes at the 1984 Summer Olympics, the university has built and/or upgraded many rooms to the standard of 4-star hotels on a beautiful campus just across Sunset Boulevard from the mansions of Bel-Air and Beverly Hills.
And that UCLA campus is within a mile of restaurants and nightlife in Westwood.
The multiple advantages of the L.A. 2024 village plans are what its officials should emphasize ad nauseum to the IOC evaluators when they visit Wednesday through Friday. (The evaluation commission's Paris visit is next week.)
Minimizing the financial risk – and thereby the likelihood of another budget-busting fiasco that would further frighten potential future bidders - is the best part of a well-conceived L.A. bid that will have no major venue or village construction needs.
L.A. should stick to such nuts and bolts rather than invoking the support of Dr. Dre or Disney or the tech superpowers headquartered a few hundred miles north or those seven-figure Facebook likes, whether they were acquired legitimately or by gaming the system better than the Paris bid.
The L.A. bid would be wasting its breath on all the things such creativity might bring to an Olympic Movement (a meaningless and fittingly pretentious term) desperately trying to get millennials in the developed world interested in its sports festivals.
It pains me to say this, because I have been and will remain a passionate chronicler of Olympic competition, but the reality is the Games look like a relatively moribund attraction to adults in the smart-phone, Snapchat generation – and, likely, to their offspring.
These young men and women, especially those in the United States, have too many other outlets for their attention to care about modern pentathlon and bobsled, about track and field or skiing, even if the caring is required only every four years.
Hip-hop playing on Beats headphones and virtual reality goggles and Omnimax-like telecasts and whatever Samsung or Silicon Valley or urban culture comes up with next isn’t going to change that. Sisyphus will get that rock to the top of the hill before the Olympics get new generations to fill the bandwagon.
You can see what is happening clearly from the drop in NBC’s prime-time ratings from London 2012 to Rio 2016, especially in the 18-to-34 demographic. Ad Age reported Rio was the oldest-skewing TV audience since 1960. (At age 70, I’m the perfect example of that audience.) The digital stream audiences improved the numbers, but the “Total Audience Delivery” (all outlets combined) showed a 15 percent drop from London.
And the ever-more-bloated, ever-more-expensive, ever-less-youth-relevant Olympic Games are drowning in expenses and sinking beneath the surface of seas rising with the climate change that eventually could render most winter sports impracticable in habitable areas of our planet. Throwing a life ring for another generation or two may be the best the IOC can hope for.
L.A.’s Summer Games life ring is simply better designed and more all-encompassing than that of Paris in meeting the cost-reducing goals laid out in the IOC’s Agenda 2020. If the IOC believes a single word about what those “reform” documents say about the price of bidding for and hosting an Olympics, then its members should see how the L.A. bid is an embodiment of those words.
I’m no Pollyanna. The L.A. bid is neither foolproof nor flawless. The venues, in four main clusters, are more far-flung than those in Paris, and driving in the L.A. area can be a frustrating, seemingly interminable nightmare (I experienced that again on a visit two weeks ago.) The feared traffic apocalypse did not occur in 1984, but the Los Angeles metropolitan area has grown from 11.5 million in 1980 to an estimated 18.5 million today. The current L.A. area public transportation system pales in comparison to that in Paris.
But public transport in the L.A. area is rapidly being enhanced, in both scope and quality. On my recent trip, I was able to eschew a rental car, expensive parking and freeway gridlock for a 25-mile, 75-minute trip on bus and subway from Tarzana in the San Fernando Valley to downtown Los Angeles. The cost to me as a senior citizen: 35 cents (!!!) each way, plus a one-time fee of $1 for a reusable fare card.
Of course, Paris is Paris. That could be a trump card (pun intended?) for the many IOC members more focused on the prospect of having an all-expenses-paid, grand luxe vacation in the City of Light than the future of the Olympic Games. And who knows what the impact of having Trump in the White House will be on the minds of IOC voters when they choose the 2024 host in September, especially after France’s rejection of the right-wing candidacy of Marine Le Pen in Sunday’s presidential election?
In thinking of the bid competition, I am reminded of campaign strategist James Carville’s insistence on a one-note mantra for Bill Clinton’s successful 1992 presidential bid: “It’s the economy, stupid.”
“It’s the villages, stupid” perfectly expresses the idea that L.A. has found a way to rein in the ridiculous costs of a staging the Olympics. It is the only issue the IOC should care about when choosing between the two excellent 2024 bids.
That emphasis shouldn’t change even if the IOC is wise enough to get these great cities to agree on who goes first in a deal that would award 2024 and 2028 at the same time, so neither goes away with a bad taste. (If Los Angeles does not come away with something, there may be no U.S. candidate city for years to come.)
Instead of the IOC’s usual “let-them-eat-cake” attitude, it may be able to eat its cake in 2024 and have the cerise on top in 2028.