When NBC Universal agreed to spend $7.75 billion on six Olympic Games through 2032, perhaps it was counting on the added value of having one of those Olympics staged in the United States.
The soonest that could happen is 2024; several U.S. cities are pursuing bids.
Winning a bid to host the Olympics is not unlike a political campaign: Candidates must first conquer a primary. That preliminary competition is happening now among at least seven cities trying to convince the U.S. Olympic Committee that they should be the nominee to host the 2024 Summer Games. By then, the U.S. will have endured a 22-year Olympics drought — and a 28-year hiatus from hosting the Summer Games.
The top contenders are Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Dallas, Washington, Philadelphia and Boston. That list will be cut to two or three cities by the end of May, and the USOC hopes to have one city selected by the end of the year.
Recent U.S. bids have been disasters. New York’s effort to host the 2012 Summer Games hardly resonated with the International Olympic Committee’s voters.
Then, despite an appearance from President Barack Obama at the IOC’s voting session in Copenhagen, the Chicago 2016 bid also resulted in a humiliating defeat. The USOC did not even bother putting forth a nomination for the 2020 games.
Representatives for the mayors of Chicago and New York said they would not seek bids for 2024.
Predicting which cities might appeal to IOC voters is about as easy as predicting who is going to win gold in the hammer throw in 2024. But let’s try:
Barry A. Sanders, chairman of the Southern California Committee for the Olympic Games, makes it sound as if Los Angeles is ready to host the games this weekend.
“We want to offer a safe but exciting choice,” Sanders said.
Opening and closing ceremonies would be held at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, as was the case when the city held the games in 1932 and 1984. The Coliseum will undergo a $100-million revamp as part of its agreement with the University of Southern California. But only a quarter of the venues used in the 1984 games would be recycled, Sanders said.
The most ambitious piece of the Los Angeles bid would be the creation of an athletes’ village downtown, a onetime residential wasteland that is morphing into a hipster haven. “The games would reflect the new L.A.,” Sanders said.
Then there is one of Los Angeles’ signature features: traffic. Sanders said expanded rail lines and designated lanes for Olympic transit would do the trick.
Los Angeles does have access to something few other cities do. “Of course,” Sanders said, with a nod to nearby Hollywood, “we could find a director for opening and closing ceremonies.”
Tech money flows in the Bay Area, but the tight housing market and compact layout of the city might lead to Olympic angst from locals.
In its previous bid to host, San Francisco relied heavily on its international reputation, college campuses, BART system and a “ring of gold” venue arrangement of distinct clusters including Santa Clara, Oakland, Berkeley, downtown San Francisco and an Olympic Village at Stanford. San Francisco has several sites, like AT&T Park, Candlestick Park and Harding Park, that could be converted into Olympic facilities, in addition to waterways fit for a kayak or canoe showdown.
“San Francisco has mounted several past Olympic bids and could be a spectacular host for a future games,” said Christine Falvey, a spokeswoman for the mayor, perhaps trying to remind IOC voters that her city is not a newbie. She declined to make any further comments regarding San Francisco’s specific plans.
The original pitch of co-hosting with Tijuana was dismissed. Instead, San Diegans are trying to use the Olympics as a talking point for the area’s long-term urban planning goals.
The city has hosted the Super Bowl, golf’s U.S. Open and major equestrian events, and it has one of three U.S. Olympic training sites in nearby Chula Vista, said Vincent Mudd, chairman of the San Diego Exploratory Committee. Organizers claim that they have most of the needed venues, including a convention center that would be used as the operations space for more than 15,000 members of the news media.
Downtown would be home to rugby, gymnastics and evening events.
The IOC requires a Summer Games host city to have at least 45,000 hotel rooms; Mudd said San Diego had that, not counting the cruise ship terminals used for lodging for the Super Bowl.
One missing piece is a track and field stadium, the athletics centerpiece of a Summer Olympics. Another challenge is the fact that San Diego has stiff competition within its own state.
“California was invented through San Diego,” Mudd said.
London! Rio! Tokyo! Dallas? Even if the bid is broadened to be more Texas-focused, the romance of Dallas may be a tough sell to IOC members, many of whom do not know Larry Hagman from Tom Landry.
The 277-acre Fair Park would be the Olympic hub, and the Cotton Bowl stadium would be revamped for track and field competitions and opening and closing ceremonies. The Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center would host “small box” events like judo and taekwondo, and most major sites are connected by Dallas’ light rail system.
“This is a chance to showcase our city,” said Matt Wood, a lawyer who is heading the Dallas Olympic efforts.
In what is being touted as the most patriotic offering, the Washington bid would involve demolishing RFK Stadium to construct an Olympic stadium and athletes’ village. “It’s ready to be torn down,” said Russ Ramsey, chairman of Washington 2024.
Having the games take place in the Eastern time zone, a potentially lucrative opportunity for NBC, is another one of Washington’s selling points, and the games could sprawl into nearby Baltimore. The area is accustomed to staging high-security gatherings.
Amid a campaign finance scandal, Washington’s mayor lost his bid for re-election, and it is unclear whether his successor will support the bid. And while lovely in the spring, Washington’s humid summer weather can feel like a warm pool.
While the city is home to the triumphant “Rocky” steps, a culture of rabid sports fans and a gaggle of Ben Franklin impersonators, the idea of Philadelphia winning the Olympic bid is a long shot.
Yet organizers may bank on such underdog status to help propel the bid forward. Philadelphia has hosted Beyond Sport, collegiate championships in lacrosse and wrestling, as well as the U.S. championships in figure skating and gymnastics. But Lincoln Financial Field, home of the Philadelphia Eagles, seats 68,000, short of the 80,000 that London had in 2012.
“City leadership has met with a number of stakeholders and experts in recent months and continues to gauge the feasibility of Philadelphia pursuing an Olympic bid in 2024 or in the future,” said Mark McDonald, a spokesman for Mayor Michael Nutter.
Like Philadelphia, Boston boasts a deep sports culture. But with Gillette Stadium far away in Foxborough, the city would need to build an Olympic stadium. And it is far too soon to tell what impact last year’s bombings at the Boston Marathon would have on security-concerned IOC voters.
One report on the feasibility of a Boston games formed by the Massachusetts Legislature and the governor found that the city would also need an aquatics center, an Olympic Village and velodrome. Nor had research been conducted on what the local opinion would be on hosting the games.
“New Englanders have a well-earned reputation for being slow to embrace new ideas,” the legislative report said. “But once they have done so, they are committed and resolute.”
John Fish, who is leading the Boston effort, said in a statement: “Boston is a world-class city and would serve as a wonderful host for the Summer Olympics in 2024.”