On Friday, the Los Angeles City Council is expected to vote on whether the city should advance with its bid to host the 2024 Summer Olympics. Things move quickly in the world of the Olympics. Just last month, Boston became the first American city in almost 45 years to say no to hosting the Games. When International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach announced that he still expected a US city to submit a bid for the 2024 Games, the US Olympic Committee (USOC) scrambled for an alternative and soon settled on Los Angeles.
Earlier this week, the city’s organizing committee, LA2024, released a copy of its bid. LA2024 projects that the Games will cost $4.1 billion ($4.7 billion with contingency and insurance), but will bring in $4.8 billion from ticket sales, corporate sponsorships, and broadcast rights, netting a projected $161 million surplus. The proposal outlines an Olympics that would rely on many existing venues, such as the Coliseum and the Staples Center, while building an Olympic Village on the LA River waterfront that would be converted into residential housing after the Games.
Despite these sunny projections, economic experts are far less sanguine about the benefits of the Olympics. According to Philip Porter of the University of South Florida, an economist who studies such mega-events, “every time we’ve looked—dozens of scholars, dozens of times—we find no real change in economic activity.” Robert Barney, founding director of the International Centre for Olympic Studies at the University of Western Ontario, has argued that, when you count for indirect costs, “there has never been an Olympic Games that has made a profit.” And Andrew Zimbalist of Smith College, an outspoken critic of Boston’s bid and the author of the new book Circus Maximus, has described the idea of hosting the Olympics without a massive infusion of public funds nothing but a “pipe dream.”
Boston just rejected the Olympics. LA, it’s your turn. Los Angeles residents, you should say no to the Olympics. And, just as importantly, you can.
Olympic boosters often cite the economic success of the 1984 Summer Olympics, also hosted in Los Angeles, when arguing for why the Olympics are a great opportunity for host cities. This will surely be brought up as why LA should host again. However, this was a unique case: Los Angeles was the only bidding city that year, giving officials the leverage to reject the taxpayer guarantee that the IOC requires, which ensures the host city will pick up the tab for any cost overruns.
In the 2024 bidding war, with cities like Paris, Hamburg, Budapest, Rome, and Toronto competing to give the best deal to the IOC, that leverage no longer exists. “If you’re the only bidder, you can tell the I.O.C. how it’s going to be,” Stefan Szymanski, a professor at the University of Michigan who conducted an independent audit of London’s 2012 Olympics, told the Los Angeles Times. “If there are three or four bidders, the I.O.C. tells you how it’s going to be.” Los Angeles—and any other city in the running—will have to agree to protect the IOC from cost overruns and serve as a guarantor for any Olympic construction. What’s the chance of such cost overruns? 100 percent.