LA for 28, Paris for 24: how it came to be

For weeks now, Olympic insiders have known that Paris would get the 2024 Games and Los Angeles 2028. On Monday, it happened.

Simply put, there was too much win-win-win at stake.

This phraseology is how the International Olympic Committee president, Thomas Bach, had come recently to term the 2024/2028 double — as a triple play, really, a win for the IOC, for Paris and for LA.

The full IOC membership must ratify this arrangement at an assembly September 13 in Lima, Peru. That will be a formality.

Of course, in 2017 we don’t know whether by summer 2028 that triple play will have come true. As ever, time will be the measure of all things.

Here, though, is what’s what:

— This deal achieves significant strategic objectives for the IOC. It gets two of the world’s most visible cities. It gets stability. The IOC also gets to grow its business where it matters most. That would be the United States, in case anyone has any questions, and they should not.

 Mayor Eric Garcetti at LA news conference via Facebook Live

Mayor Eric Garcetti at LA news conference via Facebook Live

— This deal ought to be a win for France and president Emmanuel Macron. The hope is it will be the same, by extension, for the Olympic movement in Europe, the IOC’s base. At least in the very near term. For seven years — stay tuned. France and Paris are, to be blunt, the biggest risk in this three-way play.

— That leaves the big winner. No question, unequivocally, indisputably, this deal is a no-brainer, gangbusters win for the United States, for the U.S. Olympic Committee, for Southern California, for bid leader Casey Wasserman and, especially, for Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti. Two reasons. One, history proves it is all but impossible to bring a Summer Games to the United States. Two, like the 1984 LA Games, 2028 will — no hedging — prove a financial success. Like, big-time.

 Casey Wasserman

Casey Wasserman

“This wasn’t a tough negotiation,” Garcetti said at a Monday afternoon news conference in the Southern California sunshine.

“Sure, we had to work out some details. But,” he added, referring to the IOC,” they saw the vision of Los Angeles.”

Short version of the deal:

One city (Los Angeles) has no reason not to wait and one city (Paris) really cares about not waiting. That’s a mismatch.

Longer version:

The 2024 race saw Boston give way to LA. Then Hamburg, Rome and Budapest dropped out. That left only Paris and LA.

The 2022 race had similarly gotten down to two, Beijing and Almaty, Kazakhstan, the IOC ultimately voting in the summer of 2015 for Beijing.

For more than four years, over the course of the 2024 and 2022 campaigns, and all over the world but especially in western Europe, the IOC’s stronghold, taxpayers kept saying the same thing: no more big infrastructure projects tied to an Olympics.

Two races in a row with just two survivors made for a clear signal. The bid and campaign system the IOC had relied upon for a generation no longer worked.

The IOC does business with broadcasters and sponsors, true, but it genuinely only has one customer, and that is cities. The 2022 and 2024 campaigns proved the IOC was not per se running out of customers. Instead, it was running out of really good customers — that is, a city it to which, in the end, it could reliably turn to strengthen and protect the brand or, better, to grow it for the future.

An Olympics should be a celebration. In recent years, however, virtually every edition of the Games has attracted — for seven solid years — a slew of negative headlines and relentless opposition.

In September 2016, I became the first person in the world to propose publicly that the IOC award the 2024 and 2028 Summer Games at a single stroke. In June, its policy-making executive board took me up on my suggestion; in mid-July, its general assembly did the same.

That left only one issue: which city for 2024 and which for 2028?

Bach has staked his presidency on a 40-point reform plan dubbed Agenda 2020. If Agenda 2020 is real and not so many words, LA would get 2024. Most in the movement acknowledge LA is a better bid; that it would make common sense to unlock the value and security of LA for 2024; and that if LA got 2024, the IOC would wake up in 2025 with a bunch of customers, cities clamoring to replicate the success that an LA 2024 Games would have shown the world was possible. Just like in 1985, after 1984.

But no.

Paris for 2024 almost surely means the very same problems that have dogged, in turn, Tokyo for 2020, Rio for 2016 and London for 2012 — construction overruns, busted budgets, political snarls, nasty stakeholder fights and more. This is exactly why taxpayers are so done with the IOC.

The soil remediation issues sure to emerge in and around the $1.6 billion (as if) Olympic village; the battles over the metro link, part of the Grand Paris plan, near the village in Seine-Saint-Denis; the media village plan that even the IOC said in its so-called “evaluation report” was dumb. These and more battles are yet to be fought in Paris over the coming months and years.

Moreover, cue the hugely entertaining scenario now: how long will any or all members of the Paris 2024 bid team stay in position once it segues to an organizing committee, and Macron makes it a presidential priority? Imagine the drama sure to ensue between the political rivals Macron and Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo if things go well for the project — and then, say two years from now when the typical Olympic honeymoon has run its course, if they don’t.

The IOC has made clear it is willing to take on these and other risks, including the heightened security situation in France. It downplayed all of them in its evaluation.

Why?

An IOC bid campaign is not about which city is “better.” It’s about which city can win. Bach knew all along that LA was no sure thing for 2024. At the same time, he knew he could sell the members on LA for 2028.

Why?

Because, in part, Macron and German chancellor Angela Merkel represent a great many things to a European establishment of which the IOC is a part; and because, in a Eurocentric way, there’s a logic to the thought that because the LA bid is better, it can therefore afford to wait.

There’s more, of course.

The mainstream media likes to make a lot of Paris’ 100th anniversary for 1924. That’s not it. Athens ran for 1996 on the same idea — it staged the first modern Games, in 1896 — but Atlanta won. The IOC can’t be in the anniversary business. There simply are too many anniversaries in too many places.

This, though, does matter: the IOC dates to 1894, and Paris, and the French baron Pierre de Coubertin.

Paris should thus be winning Olympic bid races with some regularity.

In an incredible fluke, the country that brought the world the modern Olympic movement is the only G-8 nation that has not, since World War II, won a Summer Games bid race. Moreover, since the end of World War II, there are only two nations in the GDP top-15 that have not hosted: India and France.

As soon as India flips the switch, it will get a Games, too.

All this is to say Paris is not just due. It’s over-due.

You know which nation is second-most due?

The United States.

That Atlanta victory makes for the only time the U.S. has won a competitive bid race. New York lost in 2005 for 2012. Chicago got kicked to the curb in 2009 for 2016 despite President Obama’s personal plea to the members in Copenhagen.

LA in 1984? No other city bid. LA in 1932? Same. (St. Louis in 1904 is a weird case all around, and not worth exploring here.)

This American history in Olympic bid races was a central driver behind my 2024/2028 column proposal. After 20 years of covering the IOC and its members, I gauged that the only way the United States was ever going to get a Summer Olympics was if that Games came packaged with another.

Why is it so hard for the United States in the Olympic bid game?

Easy. The United States is the big dog in the world. Every nation’s most controversial bilateral relationship is with us.

And then there’s the current president, about whom so much could be written, and has.

Briefly:

It is a positive that in June Bach went to the White House; that reflects well on the station of the Olympics in the world. The meeting itself: maybe not so constructive. Further: if as U.S. president one of your central mantras is “America First,” how do you say you want something back — in this instance, the prize of the Olympics — from the community of nations that make up the world? Under what theory should the world give that prize to the United States?

Noted: under no theory can the current president serve in office beyond January 20, 2025.

When it comes to Olympic politics, there’s another reason it’s often challenging for American interests. It’s American money that makes the Olympic machinery go. Just generally speaking: dealing with and talking about money always makes people feel — well, you name it, everything and anything

In one of the IOC’s rare moments of public candor, it acknowledged this financial imperative when in 2014 NBC signed a $7.65 billion deal for the U.S. broadcast rights to the Games from 2031 to 2032, saying the agreement “ensures the financial security of the Olympic movement.”

Bach, for all his critics, knows all these things, and more.

Indeed, Bach also knew that the only “negotiation,” after the full IOC membership OK in mid-July to the 2024/2028 proposal, and despite the promotion of the notion that some fancy “tripartite” agreement had to be worked out, was with LA.

Think about it. What was there to negotiate with Paris? Hey, we’re giving you 2024. Anything to add about that? Didn’t think so. Thanks. Back to you later.

Bach made a trip to California and Silicon Valley in early 2016, meeting executives from Visa, Facebook, Twitter and Google.

Beyond stability for 11 years, he thus knew acutely what was on the table: revenue growth by 2028 in the primary — if not only — market that, as the IOC’s annual report makes clear, counts, the United States.

The IOC’s latest sponsor deal only underscores this proposition. Alibaba is spending a reported $800 million over 12 years, through 2028. That’s mainly to try to become a big deal in the United States.

Here is the big secret in all of this: if 2024 in LA makes more sense for the Olympic movement, a 2028 Games in LA is inherently far more valuable.

There were, truthfully, some deal points that had to be addressed. The IOC made the host city contract public — part of Agenda 2020, to be fair — and at that Monday news conference Wasserman ticked of some of the major points:

Just for starters, the IOC will contribute $1.8 billion toward an organizing committee budget of $5.3 billion. That does not include another — at least — $200 million in the sponsorship “mobility” category. The IOC also agreed to advance the organizing committee $180 million over its first five years, toward its operations. The IOC further agreed to give up its share of any surplus.

What Wasserman didn’t say:

There are huge chunks of money likely to be cut from the expense side of that $5.3 billion (wait and see). The 1984 Games turned a $232.5 million surplus; absent an earthquake or other unforeseen calamity, there will be an LA28 organizing committee surplus and it will be considerable.

Going back again to 1984; $93 million of that $232.5 million went to the group now called the LA84 Foundation. Its current assets stand at roughly $156 million. Total investment in Southern California has been more than $220 million.

This is what in Olympic jargon is called “legacy.” As the 1984 example points out, the classic Olympic model has involved waiting until after a Games. Garcetti said, wait — why not now?

The outcome: the IOC agreed — see section 7.2 of the contract — to pay $160 million up front toward“the development of youth and sport-oriented activities.” The money should start flowing in early 2018.

Essentially, though, the big upside for LA and the USOC was way, way, way more elemental:

Just wait, four years.

Why?

Sponsorships grow with time. Going back to those IOC annual reports: the value of sponsorships has grown five times since 1988, factoring in inflation.

To make this easy: being able to sell earlier and having greater control over revenue possibilities for longer will translate into, how to put this, hmm, like a lot of money.

With the exception of Alibaba, top-tier deals for 2028 are waiting to be struck. When a world-class businessman like Wasserman mentions the mobility category at a news conference, that’s a signal — it’s worth a lot of money.

Again, time will tell all.

But the history of the Olympics over the last 25 years, since Barcelona in 1992, has been tied to construction and infrastructure. LA is free of that. That means the USOC, Wasserman and Garcetti can, virtually from Day One, zero in on the fabric of life in and around Los Angeles, especially for young people.

That, plain and simple, is a big win.