Jim Schmidt

Chicago 2016 - can a loss be a win?

CHICAGO -- Destyne Butler Jr. is a young boxer. As the intriguing new movie chronicling Chicago's unsuccessful bid for the 2016 Summer Games opens, the camera catches Destyne banging away in the gym and then saying, "It's all going to pay off in the long run, and I know I can make it." Maybe, in its way, that's the Chicago 2024 motto, too. Or Chicago 2028. Or Chicago 2032.

Not that anything like that, and for sure not a most unlikely 2020 bid, is the main point of the film.

It nonetheless remains an unavoidable subtext, and the documentary's recap of the 2016 race can't help but look ahead to what might be someday, with new takes from Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley and bid chief Pat Ryan, along with some logical thinking from U.S. Olympic Committee chief executive Scott Blackmun.

Indeed, Ryan says at one point, "I believe Chicago should bid again."

But, again, that's not the central point. Instead, it's this: Can a loss nonetheless be a win?

No one likes losing, and losing was particularly difficult in the case of Chicago 2016 because it was indisputably the most complete Olympic bid ever put forward by the United States. It featured a great technical plan based along the city's lakefront enhanced by unprecedented business and political support.

President Obama made a personal appeal as part of Chicago's presentation to the International Olympic Committee last Oct. 2 in Copenhagen. Yet Chicago got bounced in the first round, with only 18 votes, Rio de Janeiro winning in a landslide. "Shocked. I really was. Never anticipated it," Ryan says of the first-round exit.

It would be easy, of course, to make a documentary about a winning Olympic bid. The 44-minute Chicago film, produced by Mark Mitten, written and directed by Mitten and Jim Schmidt and due to air Saturday on Chicago's NBC affiliate, the one-year anniversary of the 2016 vote, is believed to be one of the very few on a losing campaign. It might even be a first -- insiders from losing bids generally not eager to re-visit that sort of thing on film. (Disclosure: I was among those interviewed for the movie. No idea if I made the final cut.)

The documentary -- here's a clip -- skirts the many controversies involving the IOC's complex relationship with the USOC that are widely believed to have played a key role in sinking Chicago's aspirations.

It's not that Mitten and Schmidt don't know about the controversies. Mitten was the bid's chief brand officer; he and Schmidt, a principal at Downtown Partners Chicago, worked on all the bid's campaign films. Some critics may thus declare the film, entitled Making Big Plans: The Story of Chicago's Olympic Dream, guilty of omission.

At the same time, it's not clear that much -- if anything -- would be gained by rehashing those conflicts, in particular the USOC's plan to launch its own television network. The USOC made that announcement in the summer of 2009 over ferocious IOC objections; ultimately, the USOC abandoned the project.

Besides, the film's focus is elsewhere:

"Chicago didn’t lose," Ryan says. "Rio won.  But Chicago won in so many ways."

If some will be tempted to say that's self-serving or just so much rationalization, consider:

The Chicago bid generated undeniable civic spirit; it positioned Chicago on the world stage; it also produced significant partnerships and real-world job and other benefits.

One example: The 2016 Fund for Chicago Neighborhoods, for example, used $2 million left over from the bid to attract $18 million in federal matching funds for job-training programs in South Side neighborhoods. Some 2,200 people stand to benefit.

Another: The bid branded Chicago, previously known around the world perhaps for Al Capone or Michael Jordan, in ways that arguably nothing else could. "We put Chicago on the global map, with all the publicity and all the competition -- it was worth it," Daley says.

If one day there is another Chicago bid, it will be under the direction of another mayor. Daley recently announced plans to leave office.

Ryan has made clear, too, that while he would be happy to advise and support another bid, someone else will be in charge.

As things stand now, there are only three cities in the United States that can legitimately aim to mount and then win a Summer Games bid: Los Angeles, New York and Chicago. The USOC has made it abundantly plain that no American bid will even be considered until a longstanding dispute with the IOC over the USOC's shares of broadcasting and marketing revenues is resolved.

There's no timetable for getting that done. So any bid talk  has to be considered hypothetical.

"If and when we do want to reconsider a bid, we are definitely going to want to be in a dialogue with the people of Chicago – a combination of the great leadership that they were able to put together, the great plan," Blackmun, who has been chief executive since January and played no part in the 2009 campaign, says in the movie, adding, "I think we definitely want to revisit that with Chicago at some point in the future."

Again, and for emphasis: Blackmun was not endorsing Chicago and he was not slyly suggesting the Americans are up to something for 2020. He was speaking in the hypothetical.

The film does, however, give voice to the obvious question:

"Should we bid again?" asks Scott Myers, the executive director of World Sport Chicago, another legacy of the bid, its youth sport-oriented organization.

"I think we should bid again," Bill Scherr, World Sport Chicago's president, answers.

"Chicago should bid again," Phil Enquist, an architect and key 2016 Games planner, says.

Lori Healey, the Chicago 2016 president, says, "Never say never, right?"

Ryan says the bid team "put our bid plan in a time capsule and it's there to be taken out by a future mayor and business community and community leaders. And it will be very timely because what was great about our bid was the physical beauty and lakefront and parks of the city, and that’s not going away.

"So when there is another bid, it will cost far less than our bid cost. And it could be eight years, 12 years, 16 years."

He also says, "The Olympic bid -- it was a great, great thing for Chicago," adding, "Some day Chicago will host the Olympics."

Maybe. It's like Destyne Butler Jr. also says: "I want to make history."