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  • OpEd: What A Los Angeles Olympics WIll Mean


    08/04/17

    (ATR) Eleven years ago, the top three selling mobile phones were Motorola’s Razr, Research in Motion’s Blackberry Pearl, and the Nokia 6070. Apple’s iPhone had not yet been invented (meaning there were no apps of any kind), a tablet was something you took for a headache, and Uber was an adjective in German used to convey emphasis and not people.

    With unprecedented innovation providing a worthy balance to global uncertainty, the announcement of an agreement between the International Olympic Committee and the City of Los Angeles to host the 2028 Olympic Games seemed more “settlement” than selection in a rather unique bid cycle.

    Los Angeles has a history of accepting the Olympic Games when no other city would, providing innovation and financial upside in the process, and finally returning a more robust Olympic brand to the International Olympic Committee than the one it inherited. While an eleven year wait carries uncertainty, there are a few things we do know about Los Angeles as a capable steward of the Olympic flame.

    Indeed, history suggests the Olympics just got better.

    The long bid cycle for Los Angeles does have precedent, and LA always wins the Games by acclamation. In 1923, Los Angeles was awarded the 1932 Games nearly a decade in advance, largely on the assurances of expansion of the Los Aneles Memorial Coliseum to 100,000 seats. During the bid cycle of 1978, with the future of the Olympic Movement uncertain following the financial disaster of the 1976 Games in Montreal, and the United Nations (UNESCO to be exact) actively considering a takeover of the Olympic Movement, Los Angeles stepped forward to embrace the Games as the lone candidate.

    If the current agreement for 2028 holds as expected, Los Angeles will become the third city to host the Olympic Games three times, but the first to be selected by acclamation each time it has made a serious bid attempt, usually in times when countries shy away from hosting.

    Los Angeles is no stranger to Olympic risks, and the City seems to show up when the IOC needs a credible partner to provide stability and elevation for the Olympic brand. The 1932 Olympics were hosted on the heels of the Great Depression. Out of financial necessity for visiting athletes and officials, Los Angeles invented the concept of the Athletes’ village at Baldwin Hills and provided subsidized meals for $2 a day for Olympic athletes, coaches and officials.

    The concept of the three-tiered podium and raised flags for medal winners was a concept which also emanated from those 1932 Los Angeles Games. Each of these creations are now a fundamental part of staging an Olympiad. Los Angeles more or less “innovated” its way out of financial disaster in 1932, turning the first profit for a host city in Olympic history when it made a modest $150,000 from those “Depression Games.” That’s slightly north of $2 million in today’s money.

    Idy Uyoe
    Again, in 1984, Los Angeles assumed a financial risk by hosting an Olympic Games which realized a combined $2 billion in losses between Montreal (1976) and Lake Placid (1980 Winter Games). Los Angeles organizers developed a creative financing model which would provide the foundation for The Olympic Partnership (TOP) sponsorship model, perhaps the gold standard in sports’ sponsorship.

    According to the latest IOC financials, sponsorship accounted for 45 percent of the nearly $6 billion of total revenue realized in the previous Olympic quadrennial. Though Los Angeles’ original profit projections for the 1984 Games was $15 million, a confluence of circumstances unlikely to be duplicated in the foreseeable future, netted Los Angeles a $232 million surplus from its Olympic efforts.

    So, the cycle has looped again for 2028, where the broader populace in Western Democracies are reticent to commit their governments to the uncertainties of an Olympic Games whose rhetoric of rewards rarely accords with the financial realities of hosting. With this dual award of 2024 and 2028, the IOC has essentially turned to the Los Angeles “Brand” to provide stability (read: backstop) and credibility in the short term while it refines its processes.

    But risks still remain on both sides. The Games are seeking to connect to a Millennial generation largely oblivious to the Olympics as a platform of competing ideologies – Democracy vs. Fascism, and later, Democracy vs. Communism – as a matter of priority and continued relevance.

    Additionally, it’s hard to gauge consumption mediums a decade out, with linear TV already yielding to apps, smart phones and live streams. Will LA have unfettered creative liberties in leveraging the latest technological advancements, whatever those may be a decade from now? We shall see.

    There are, however, factors working in Los Angeles’ favor. Unlike 1978, Olympic finances in 2017 have never been healthier and the Games’ popularity remains steady during the actual competition. Historically, the stock market actually ticks up nearly 2% on average during the fortnight of the Olympic festival, though it remains to be seen if that trend will be sustained.

    To suggest risk remains for a 2028 Olympiad awarded now would be stating the obvious. To conclude, however, that Los Angeles is one of a handful of cities that steadies the Olympics in times of uncertainty is historical fact. What is also true, is that Los Angeles always returns the Games to the IOC, in much better condition than when it receives them.

    The 2028 Olympics should be no different.

    Written by Idy Uyoe, M.A.

    Idy Uyoe (www.idysports.com) is an Olympic scholar, commentator and sports marketing professional. He is an active member of the International Society of Olympic Historians and is the producer and host of the online series The Olympic Moment – with new episodes available on YouTube and Facebook. Follow him on Twitter @idysports.