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Keith Strudler: Olympic Planning

Olympic rings

Every now and then, I get into an argument with my mom about vacation planning. It’s usually because she wants to plan a trip a year in advance, and I have a hard time seeing past lunchtime. For a whole lot of reasons – two of them being my children – I’m not really good at long range personal planning. In other words, I barely know what I’m doing next week, much less next year.

The city of Los Angeles doesn’t have that problem. Because unlike most of us, they know exactly what they’ll be doing years from now. Eleven years, to be exact. Because in 2028, the city of Los Angeles will host the Summer Olympic Games, which will return to the city for the first time since 1984 and the first time to the US since 1996 in Atlanta. Tickets are not yet available for 2028, and I’d guess that some of the potential stars of those Olympics are currently still waiting for the Tooth Fairy. But the Games will come to the City of Angels for the third time in its history.

Now, what’s particularly odd about this award isn’t simply the extended timing. It’s the sequencing. Meaning, we don’t officially have a host city for the 2024 Summer Games. The ones that will come four years before LA. That feels a little like applying to law school before enrolling in college.

Now, there is a general sense of where the 2024 Games will go. And that’s Paris, who’ve bid for what feels like the last 10 Olympics to no avail. They will almost assuredly get the 2024 Games, if for no other reason than they’ll be the only city willing to host them. That’s why the U.S. was preemptively given 2028. Paris and LA were both planning on bidding on 2024, and the International Olympic Committee didn’t want to let either down. So instead of having two prom dates, if you will, they just planned two proms. Paris goes first – namely because they asked first – and Los Angles goes second. It’s like Passover with families. Each set of parents gets one Seder. And I apologize for the niche reference, but anyone who’s ever eaten two Thanksgiving dinners knows what I mean.

Of course, it didn’t used to be like this, with the IOC awarding all comers with their very own Olympic Games, just so they wouldn’t be upset. It used to be that legions of countries would hope against hope that they might win a bid to host the Games, knowing that it might very well take three or four of more tries to get there. And each bid had to be better than the last, complete with new stadiums, airports, and, of course, bribes. Now, it seems as long as you’ve got a field and a few empty beds, the Olympics will come visit your town. In fact, Los Angeles will get advance money to build youth sports over the next decade, money that typically doesn’t come until long after all the medals are awarded and drug tests are failed. It’s like an instant cash rebate for buying a new car. And LA will barely have to build new anything, but instead simply use existing stadiums – which are pretty new, for the record – and house athletes at local universities. It’s Olympics on the cheap, if just slightly over $5 billion can be considered cheap, which I suppose it can in the Olympic economy.

So what’s the big takeaway here? On the one hand, it should be something of an Olympic gold medal, with not one, but two Olympics awarded to premium global cities. The IOC didn’t even have to go to China or Russia this time, which seemed like the future of the movement. As appealing as that narrative may be, it’s also likely misguided. The reality is that the Olympics has gone from a transformative global event to that guy that’s always looking for someone’s couch to crash on. Right now, it’s got a couple of good friends in France and the US. We’ll see how long that lasts. Although let’s be honest, the IOC might be happy to stay in the U.S. and a couple of other wealthy nations as long as possible, perhaps forever changing the model of the Olympics to something more like the Super Bowl, where three or four cities just alternate years.

There are countless well-known reasons for this dynamic shift. Some of it is the IOC’s own fault – like greed and hubris. Some of it isn’t, like the fact that security costs have overwhelmed the affair and the economic crash of several developing nations. And that’s not even taking into account the inevitable upcoming crash of the Olympics’ media economy as consumers cut-the-cord and the revenue of traditional network partners. The Olympics might have the next 11 years covered, but after that, who knows. I’m not a betting man, and for good reason, but if I had to guess, I’d suggest the Olympics of 2032 might look very different than the ones we know right now. Of course, I have no idea where I might be in 2032. I barely know where I’ll be next week.

Keith Strudler is the director of the School of Communication and Media at Montclair State University. You can follow him on twitter at @KeithStrudler

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management. 

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