The last time Los Angeles hosted an Olympics, the city won the games largely because it promised to do them on the cheap.
The 1984 Games were a success, even with the Soviet Union and others boycotting. Peter Ueberroth and his team delivered on their promise of bare-bones games, and 32 years later the surplus keeps paying dividends for Southern California sports through the well-funded LA84 Foundation.
Now Los Angeles wants to do it again. And the playbook looks strikingly familiar.
The city’s plan to host the 2024 Olympics is audacious not – like most Olympic bids – because of the grandeur and spectacle it promises. Rather it’s because it promises to do something most Olympic cities have failed to do in the modern era – deliver a decent Olympics while sticking to a reasonable budget.
If Los Angeles gets the nod, organizers promise this would be an Olympics done on budget and with little building necessary. It would cost just $5.3 billion, a fraction of the $20 billion Tokyo organizers want to spend on the 2020 Games.
Of course, it’s all promises and glitzy presentations now. And the latest plan unveiled last week to put on an Olympics without huge cost overruns is as much a strategy for beating Paris out for the 2024 Olympics as it is for putting on the actual games themselves.
But LA has done it before, and done it well, turning a profit in 1984 when it was said that couldn’t be done. And there are some smart people behind it, including the city’s mayor and Casey Wasserman, an entertainment and sports industry figure who is active in all the right circles in Southern California.
More important, it might be coming at just the right time, when the International Olympic Committee is looking to reign in some of the excesses of the games. On the same day Los Angeles unveiled the latest version of its plan last week, an IOC vice president warned Tokyo organizers that a $20 billion plan for the 2020 Olympics was unacceptable.
“If LA is chosen to host the 2024 Games, the IOC does not have to worry about changing or evolving budgets, shifting competition venues or uncertainty about the delivery of the games,” said Wasserman, the LA 2024 chairman.
To prove the point, LA24 submitted its budget to the accounting firm KPMG for evaluation. The accountants declared the plan reasonable with the important caveat that “any changes to the budget after this date are outside the scope of this project.”
Security is also outside the scope of the project. It will be hugely expensive, though organizers believe the federal government will pick up the tab as it did for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.
Promises are easier broken than kept, but Los Angeles has some things going for it. The biggest is that the LA metropolitan area already has almost all the sports facilities to host an Olympics, though Paris also plans to use mostly existing facilities.
Still, what better place to center the Olympics than the LA Coliseum, a beautiful and historic stadium built for the 1932 Games and used again in 1984.
Soccer would be in the iconic Rose Bowl, and basketball at Staples Center, home of the Lakers and Clippers.
Swimming would be one of the few things needed to be built, and it would be a temporary open air facility on the USC campus that would be torn down after the games were over.
Best of all, perhaps, is that there’s already an athletes village. The plan is to use student housing at UCLA to house the world’s best athletes, and if dorm rooms don’t sound that great they will certainly be an upgrade on the accommodations in Rio.
Not to worry, there are also plenty of Beverly Hills mansions and ritzy hotels to house even the pickiest member of the U.S. basketball team.
Why any city would want an Olympics in an era of bloated competitions and suspect athletes might be the one question LA residents should be asking. The people of Boston, you might remember, rose in rebellion last year and quashed that city’s bid for the games.
It’s basically between Paris and Los Angeles (Budapest is not thought to be a winnable bid, and Rome recently dropped out) when IOC members meet next year to decide the site of the 2024 Games. Paris is thought to be the front-runner but with politics involved – the presidency of Donald Trump is a wild card – and the usual intrigue and shenanigans that go with a bid, it’s anyone’s guess what city will win.
But LA has a plan, and it’s similar to one that worked before. Right now, a third Olympics in Los Angeles doesn’t sound so bad at all.