Looking out at the modest Dedeaux Field on the University of Southern California, it doesn’t appear any more or less remarkable than most other college baseball fields. Much smaller than a full-fledged stadium, but surely large enough for college games. Taking in the bench seats, green field, and classic baseball diamond, it’s hard to imagine the whole thing underwater. However, should the International Olympic Committee chose Los Angeles to host the summer 2024 games, that’s exactly how Dedeaux Field will end up.
The plans by USC and the LA 2024 planning committee show that the aquatics center would host the diving, swimming, and synchronized swimming events, and then return to a baseball field once the Olympics ended. Turning USC’s baseball field into a swimming complex represents a number of greater concerns the city must consider as it continues to pursue the bid. Facing rising homelessness rates, cost of living pushing low-income communities out of the city, traffic concerns, and the drought, the city of Los Angeles has much to consider should it want to three-peat host the Olympic games.
The official bid to the International Olympic Committee is run by the LA 2024 Bid Committee is lead by its Chairman Casey Wasserman, owner and CEO of Wasserman Media Group that represents top athletes and grandson of one of the most powerful media CEO in LA, Lew Wasserman. The Bid Committee’s CEO Gene Sykes is a partner at Golman Sachs, and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti also works on the Committee. On September 29, the committee received $250 million in state financial support from Governor Edmund Brown, Jr., showing the games general support from power players all over southern California.
Currently, LA is one of three cities vying for hosting responsibilities along with Paris and Budapest. After other major cities like Boston and Rome bowed out of the race, it looks increasingly possible that Los Angeles ends up the final choice for the summer games. Along with the weather, location, and size of Los Angeles, Mayor Garcetti and 25 other delegates from the Committee travelled to Rio De Janeiro to meet with the IOC and touted the ways the Olympics will urge Los Angeles to build up projects with the added motivation of the thirty-third Olympiad. On its website, LA24.org, the board laid out its plans for the 2024 games including maps to the venues, the concept of creting the most environmentally sustainable games in history, and answering general questions about what it means for Los Angeles to puruse and host the games.
“One of the lessons I’ve learned is you shouldn’t ever do things just for a two-and-a-half-week event… We’re not connecting rail to LAX … because we might win the Olympics,” Garcetti said to Southern California Radio in August. “We’re doing it because the city needs it. We’re not building $30 billion worth of transportation … because we might need it for those two and a half weeks — we’re doing it because the people of L.A. need it.”
Los Angeles already hosted the games twice, in 1932 and 1984, one of the strong arguments the Bid Committee stresses. The 1985 games went down in history as one of the more successful Olympics games. After a string of historically unsuccessful games (Mexico City 1968, Munich 1972, Montreal 1976, and Moscow 1980), Los Angeles was able to rebuild the reputation of the Olympics relying heavily on television broadcasts. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, LA 84 was also one of the first heavily commercialized Olympic games, when brands first started to put the Olympic logo on products creating the “official” brands of the games. Revenue from broadcasts, tickets, merchandise, and other created a $225 million profit for Los Angeles.
“The Olympics turned a profit ($225 million) for the first time since 1932. Despite concerns about growing corporate involvement and the reduced competition caused by the communist boycott, the financial success and high worldwide television ratings raised optimism about the Olympic movement for the first time in a generation,” Encyclopedia Britannica
The Bid Committee hopes to capitalize on that optimism of the 1984 games, including the broadcast rights, merchandise, tourism, controlled traffic, and global interest in the Olympics. The Committee’s plans rely heavily on using pre-existing venues to cut back on construction costs, however most of the venues they plan on using — the LA Football Club Stadium on top of the old Sports Arena, USC’s Dedeaux Field aquatics center, the UCLA-based Olympic Village — are under current construction or don’t exist yet. Even one of the most famous venues, the LA Memorial Coliseum on the USC campus, must undergo heavy renovations to host the track and field events of the summer games. The colosseum is already slated for renovations from the school, and winning the bid would add and extra temporary track layered on top of the field for the Olympics. Ambitious projects that won’t be finished for another two to four years add to the worry that Los Angeles is already going overboard in its planning and budget. Los Angeles City Controller, Ron Galperin, wrote a letter addressing his worries about how the expenses of hosting would affect LA.
“Our City has been emerging form more difficult economic times. Hosting the Games is a major undertaking, and it would be imprudent to ask City taxpayers to assume financial risks associated there within.” Galperin wrote in an official letter to the Olympics Committee in August. “Thus, among other things, it is vital to properly and sufficiently safeguard Angelenos and our City government from possible losses — and to avoid placing our City in a position wherein we might have to indemnify the U.S. Olympics Committee or an other entity from losses they might incur.”
Proposed City Budgets of Host Cities
Galperin’s mistrust doesn’t go unfounded. A look back at the summer games starting from Sydney in 2000 shows every budget exceeding expectations by several million. Beijing 2008 stands apart as one of the most extraordinary and expensive games in Olympic history, final estimates guessing the two-week event costing the host country nearly $40 billion. London and Rio kept their spending no where near China’s, however both cities nearly doubled their initial budgets by the end. Athens, in the grips of its economic woes still, places much of the blame for its current situation on the ’04 games. In building the city’s hosting stadiums, including the costly Olympic Village, “There was no proper planning,” Kostas Bakouris, the managing director of the Organizing Committee for the Athens 2004 Olympic Games from 1998 to 2000 told U.S. News. “We did not invest in temporary facilities.”
Part of the financial strain placed on host cities is incorporated into the bidding process by the IOC. By encouraging cities to promise big stadiums, ceremonies, state of the art facilities, top security measures, and host the hundreds of athletes, bigger schemes usually have a higher chance of getting chosen. After Beijing the IOC has looked for more financially stable or renewable bids, however the costs always go over budget. The lack of accountability in the process, by both the IOC and the city Bid Committee, adds to the difficulties of keeping Olympic spending reasonable. The pressure to deliver creates a lax view on spending and that’s what often results in the vast spending.
“The economic impacts (of hosting) are typically negative, so obviously the issue is you’re in a time-box,” Robert Livingstone, owner of Olympic news website GamesBids.com, said. “There’s huge development projects which typically don’t belong in a time-box, so when you’re trying to deliver, costs always go up. There’s usually three things in any project that you can’t control: time, cost, and quality. If you take one of those away, then the other two can go out of control.”
Livingstone studied economics and began writing about the Toronto bid in 1996, since then he’s followed the Olympic bidding process and spoke briefly about the effects of the Olympics on cities. He says the original benefits of “trickle down economics” for the games — tourism, reusable venues, travel within the country — are difficult to measure as a direct result of the Olympic games. James McBride, a senior economics writer for the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote a report about the ins and out costs of hosting the games. He wrote that the difference in spending versus what the cities makes back are hardly matched:
“Beijing’s 2008 Summer Olympics generated $3.6 billion in revenue, compared with over $40 billion in costs. Vancouver’s Winter Games in 2010 generated $2.8 billion compared with $7.6 billion in costs, and London’s Summer Games in 2012 generated $5.2 billion compared with $18 billion in costs. What’s more, much of the revenue doesn’t go to the host — the IOC keeps more than half of all television revenue, which represents the single largest chunk of money generated by the games.”
Considering the barriers to hosting, the LA 2024 Bid Committee suggests people turn to the official website for information and read how the committee plans to address different concerns. Most of the wording and deeper outlines surround the plans and venues of the games are vague, starting with the promise that LA 2024 will be solar powered and more details will come in 2017. The website doesn’t offer too much of a window into the bidding process, instead placating worries and laying out the grand dream of LA 2024.
“All of the competition venues in our plan are either already built, planned regardless of the Games, or will be temporary,” Luca Servodio, a representative from the Bid Committee said in an emailed statement. “And our Olympic and Paralympic Village at UCLA is also already built and operational, reducing the burden on our city and making fiscal responsibility and sustainability hallmarks of a Games in Los Angeles.”
The International Olympic Committee won’t make the final decision host city decision until Until September 2017. Until then, Los Angeles continues its bid for the Olympic games, though the Committee should consider better defining its plans for the games, how it will affect the host city and its communities, or at least thinking about the bid with cautious optimism.