The gamble just wasn't worth it
The people got this one right. Boston’s Olympic bid, which came to an abrupt end on Monday, never attracted high enough approval ratings in Beantown. Both the United States Olympic Committee and Boston’s political leaders realized that moving forward in the face of widespread public opposition to the bid would embarrass everyone long-term. Might as well cut bait now. It was a mess, but at least now it’s over.
Boston joins cities such as Oslo, Stockholm, Lviv, Ukraine and Krakow who have all recently reconsidered Olympic bids — and then dropped them. (These international cities all bid for the 2022 Winter Olympics, which will be awarded on July 31 to either Beijing or Almaty, Kazakhstan). Many people, it seems, have wisened up to basic sports economics: the Olympics are just as likely to produce eye-popping cost overruns as they are canoeing medals.
“There’s a lot of evidence that people are Olympics and World Cup weary,” says Andrew Zimbalist, author of Circus Maximus: The Economic Gamble Behind Hosting The Olympics and World Cup. The book includes ample academic research showing the gamble, indeed, is a losing one. “Billions of dollars are spent on a giant party, and the public gets nothing back,” says Zimbalist.
Zimbalist studied the Boston bid, and is convinced that both the city and state of Massachusetts are better off without it. “I don’t think it made a lot of economic sense,” Zimbalist says. Other cities will still compete with one another to convince the International Olympic Committee to award them the 2024 Summer Games: Hamburg, Rome, Paris and Budapest have all announced intentions to bid. Toronto, fresh off hosting the Pan American Games, may jump in.
Will another U.S. city emerge to replace Boston by the Sept. 15 bidding deadline? All eyes are now turning to Los Angeles, a city with a built-in advantage: L.A. has hosted the Olympics twice before, in 1932 and 1984. In ’84 Los Angeles did not have to dazzle the International Olympic Committee with a sparking, and expensive, bid book. Tehran dropped out, so L.A. had enormous leverage since the city was essentially bidding against itself. According to Zimbalist’s book, the ’84 Games produced a $215 million surplus (and not coincidentally, landed the organizer of those Games, Peter Ueberroth, on the cover of TIME as 1984 Man of the Year). The city’s existing Olympic infrastructure could defray some of the cost. “It’s not unthinkable that Los Angeles can do it the right way,” says Zimbalist.
Still, predicting the cost of an event that will place almost a decade from now is a very tricky business. If recent history is any guide, Los Angeles should take a pass too. It’s already got plenty going for it. Why bother with such a gamble? If a city like Paris feels the need to go all in, well…Paris sounds nice enough in summer.