Curious: why, with a Los Angeles bid for the 2024 Summer Games underway, would the U.S. Olympic Committee opt Wednesday to have its 100-days-to-Rio-2016 event in Times Square in New York City? What about that, given the LA24 bid, makes any sense?
1. Times Square, dressed in neon, is unquestionably many things. Like, if you’re lucky, you can catch a glimpse of the Naked Cowboy — big hat, small underwear — picking at his strategically placed guitar and panning for dollars. Wow!
New York? Biggest (and most self-important) city in the United States. So what? LA is No. 2, with a much-richer Olympic history. Also this about New York: big-time 2005 loser for the 2012 Summer Games, which went to London.
On Wednesday evening, as part of the 100-day countdown, the Empire State Building was lit up red, white and blue.
Which leads to: what is the particular relevance this summer of plans to light up the Freedom Tower, built on the destroyed World Trade Center site, with the Team USA Rio medals count? Even the New York 2012 bid did not play on the 9/11 terror attacks. So what is it? There are tall buildings in New York? Please. Light up the top of the 73-story U.S. Bank Tower in downtown LA. Or Staples Center a few blocks away. Or the Hollywood sign.
2. If you're trying to convey the notion that Times Square is akin to Town Square USA, which is ridiculous in the first instance, how in the world does that promote an LA bid? The plaza at LA Live, which holds Staples and the Microsoft Theater, is plenty big enough, and has proven plenty cool enough for virtually every awards show there is.
3. If the USOC believes New York is all that great, move your entire office there. But no. The USOC manages quite nicely to do the bulk of its business from Colorado Springs, Colorado. So why New York? Bottom line: it would have been just as easy, and way more consistent with the 2024 bid, to stage this 100-days-out event in Los Angeles.
4. If the suggestion is that the event was not just for media and Olympic fans but for sponsors and donors (party Tuesday evening at the Museum of Modern Art for 300 “Team USA supporters”) — uh, sophisticated donors and businesspeople do business, and lots of it, in California. If California was a stand-alone country, it would be the eighth-largest economy in the world as measured by gross domestic (or, the case of California, state) product, immediately behind Brazil, where — oh — the Games will be held in 100 days.
Rhetorical question: wouldn’t it make sense to invite important people to SoCal and showcase not only Rio 2016 but LA24?
As for parties — again, it’s awards season, and more, every week in Los Angeles and Southern California.
Another rhetorical question: so you want, like the IOC and USOC, to find imaginative ways to connect young people with the Games? Music and sport are the two universal languages. The Coachella festival just ran for the past two weekends. Come on.
5. The Paris people had their 100 days out in — Paris. Not Lyon or Marseilles. And not just any old spot in Paris. It was at the Palais de Chaillot at the Trocadero by the Eiffel Tower.
Incidentally, the Paris 2024 team — including the city's first female mayor, Anne Hidalgo — did go earlier this week to Marseilles, to promote the bid. But when it came to 100 days out, it was back in Paris all the way. Just like the USOC should have been Wednesday in LA.
6. The Associated Press story out of Times Square dutifully noted that First Lady Michelle Obama appeared in front of dozens of U.S. athletes, and quoted her as saying she was a “real, lifelong, die-hard Olympics fan.”
For an American audience, that’s perhaps lovely. But in the midst of a spirited bid campaign, who are the target audiences?
If the point was to appeal to a U.S. audience exclusively — why? There’s a bid campaign going on! Kill two birds with the one stone, please.
Not to mention: the Obamas, after their appearance at the IOC session in Copenhagen in 2009 at which Chicago got kicked out of 2016 voting in the first round, are the favorites of few, at best, in the International Olympic Committee.
At any rate, not one word in that AP story about Los Angeles bidding for 2024. Maybe the reporter opted not to include anything. Or maybe it wasn’t a USOC point of emphasis Wednesday that, you know, LA is bidding for the 2024 Olympics, even though — outside of the performance of the team at the Rio Games — the bid is the undeniable No. 1 USOC priority for the next 17 or so months, until the IOC election in September 2017 in Lima, Peru.
As a maybe-not-so-helpful reminder Wednesday of that trip by President Obama and First Lady to Copenhagen, here was Republican front-runner Donald Trump, speaking in Washington at the Center for the National Interest, in a story reported at length by the Chicago Tribune:
"Do you remember when the president made a long, expensive trip to Copenhagen, Denmark, to get the Olympics for our country? And, after this unprecedented effort, it was announced that the United States came in fourth. Fourth place.
"The president of the United States making this trip, unprecedented, comes in fourth place. He should have known the result before making such an embarrassing commitment. We were laughed at all over the world as we have been many, many times. The list of humiliations go on and on and on.”
It’s easy to dismiss Trump’s comments, to assert they bear no relevance to the Times Square event. But maybe they do. If only one IOC voter reads his rant and goes, yep, maybe he’s right, then what? Especially since that Tribune story duly connected Trump’s remarks with Mrs. Obama’s appearance at the Times Square production, quoting the First Lady at length:
"’To this day, I still remember the excitement that I felt as a little girl growing up on the South Side of Chicago when Olympic season would roll around,’ she said, adding how her friends would gather with her to watch the Games on TV. ‘I mean, these times meant the world to kids in neighborhoods all over the country.’” Especially, obviously, Southern California, where there’s an Olympic bid going on.
7. At any rate, compare and contrast the AP story Wednesday out of Paris.
Headline: “Passing Security Test at Euro 2016 Will Help 2024 Paris Bid.”
Sixth paragraph, quoting French Olympic Committee president Denis Masseglia: “‘It's important to prove that our system — to guarantee everybody's security — is the best system, and the [April 3] Paris marathon was a success,’ said Masseglia, who was speaking at an event to mark 100 days until the start of the Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro.”
8. If the reason the USOC event went down in New York is because it's easier for NBC, the U.S. television rights-holder, that doesn't really make a lot of sense.
NBC has a travel budget; see the social media shots posted Tuesday of longtime Olympic host Bob Costas along with senior executives Jim Bell and Joe Gesue, and others, in Rio. Moreover, NBC has a brand-new newsroom in Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley, in Universal City (where the main press and broadcast centers would be if LA wins for 2024). Other networks: CBS? Big facility in midtown LA. ESPN? Studio downtown at Staples. Fox? Century City studio.
9. If the thinking was that the other 'important' media are in New York, that is way old school, and not remotely true anymore, a nod to the East Coast bias that regrettably permeates way too much regressive thinking about the way our country works. Plain and simple: Los Angeles and California are the present and, more important, the future. That’s why LA is the 2024 bid.
At the risk of being super-obvious, having this kind of promotional event in New York serves as a profound disconnect from the core message the USOC purportedly is seeking to send the IOC about LA and California as the future of media and technology.
When IOC president Thomas Bach came to the United States earlier this year, his check-the-box visit to LA — in keeping with similar trips he had made to the other three 2024 bid cities, Paris, Rome and Budapest — provided necessary cover to meet with Google, Facebook, Twitter and other California-based technology executives. At the SportAccord convention last week in Switzerland, who served as key presenters at the so-called “Digital Summit”? Executives from Facebook, Twitter and Venice, California-based Snapchat.
Why give even one IOC member any opportunity to think the institution can count on the full support of those companies, along with others up and down California, if LA doesn’t win?
10. You want a disconnect? One of the promoted features of the Times Square event involved the unveiling of 47 full-sized surfboards, one for each Team USA sponsor, that had been individually decorated and turned into what a USOC release called a “piece of customized art.”
Everyone knows that surfing and Times Square go together like pickles and maple syrup.
If you want to buy tickets to “Les Miserables,” cool, see you at TKTS at Times Square. But surfing? See ya at Zuma, dude.
Further, as the USOC pointed out, three extra surfboards — an Olympic, Paralympic and Team USA board, bringing the total to 50 — were designed by Hurley. The company traces its roots to the Southern California surf industry in the 1970s. Maybe that’s because it’s based in Costa Mesa, California.
Let’s not forget that the USOC is the institution that a year and a half ago couldn’t figure out that it should have gone to Los Angeles in the first instance, not Boston.
Memo to the USOC: there is a 2024 campaign going on, and LA is your candidate. Why make this even the least bit difficult when some things should be so easy?