LIMA, Peru – More than anything, the United States was looking for a city that liked the Olympics.
After a debacle in Boston, where public support for hosting the games hovered at around 40 percent, the U.S. Olympic Committee turned to Los Angeles, which almost instantly commissioned a poll showing 88 percent of its residents supported bringing the Olympics back to the city.
That signal of overarching public support has been a cornerstone of the city’s bid, even though there are legitimate questions about whether anyone in Los Angeles is all that excited about an event that is still 11 years away.
On Wednesday, the International Olympic Committee will award Los Angeles the 2028 Olympics, and give the 2024 Games to Paris. The initial polling, about the 2024 Olympics, garnered the 88 percent approval rating among LA residents. A follow-up poll, asking for opinions on hosting the 2028 Olympics, came in at 83 percent approval.
Both numbers outpaced even the IOC’s own internal poll (78 percent), as well as the vast majority of polls conducted this century in candidate cities while they’ve been in the so-called application round, trying to determine whether the Olympics would be welcomed.
The Los Angeles poll was commissioned by the bid committee; independent polling, with no attachment to the bid effort, was key to sealing Boston’s fate as a city that simply did not want the games.
A key element missing from the poll, conducted by Loyola-Marymount, was any question about cost, the likes of which almost always bring with it a more negative reaction. For instance, a nationwide poll conducted by a press association in 2015 found 89 percent support to host the Olympics somewhere in the United States. But when respondents were asked if they would support a bid in their local area if it were paid for with a combination of public and private funds, only 52 percent said yes.
“It doesn’t surprise me that they didn’t include that question,” said Chris Dempsey, who spearheaded the No Boston Olympics campaign. “We found that to be the most effective argument for us as we were taking our case to the public.”
The prospect of — or actual results from — public referendums has made several cities in Western democracies reluctant to put forward bids, or caused them to pull bids that were already on the table. Hamburg, Germany; Budapest, Hungary; and Rome were all in the running for 2024 before pulling out. Left with only Paris and Los Angeles — which replaced Boston as the U.S. bidder — and worried about the future of bidding, IOC president Thomas Bach steered the committee to awarding the 2028 Games, as well, saying the current process “produces too many losers.”
Los Angeles has always been a winner when it comes to hosting the Olympics. The 1984 Games famously ran a profit and reshaped the marketing side into the colossus it has become.
“I actually think people in Los Angeles have very warm and fond memories of the 1984 Games, and that plays into it,” Dempsey said. “What I think they don’t remember is the context of the Olympics in the bidding process for 1984. They forget that, effectively, LA was the only bidder.”
That allowed Los Angeles to dictate the financial terms of its bid in a way that cannot be done today.
The virtual lack of dissent for the 2028 Games could also be, quite simply, because they’re not on the minds of the people in one of the world’s busiest cities, and largest sports markets.
After a quarter-century without the NFL, Los Angeles is in a honeymoon phase with the Rams and Chargers, who have relocated to Los Angeles over the past 24 months. Both the area’s baseball teams are in the playoff chase. The city has two NBA and NHL teams, two major college football teams, and the list goes on. Outside of the occasional staged event hosted by the city’s bid committee, there’s very little signage or buzz whipping around Southern California about an event that’s more than a decade away.
“While the Olympics will no doubt enter the conversation and become a compelling, ongoing topic, it will take a while given the time and attention being lavished by fans elsewhere,” said David Carter, executive director of the Marshall Sports Business Institute at University of Southern California.
When the latest Loyola Marymount poll was released, LA 2028 organizers touted it as a byproduct of Los Angeles’ Olympic legacy from 1984. The organizers also tout a $5.3 billion budget — exceptionally low for modern-day Olympics — and a plan with virtually every venue already built. There is a government guarantee, but it would only kick in if a number of safeguards, including insurance policies and a $487 million contingency fund built into the original budget, were to fail.
“That’s why it’s easy to believe in and support our 2028 plan — low risk and ready to go,” said LA 2028 chairman Casey Wasserman.
Still, an 83 percent approval rating is 16 percent higher than the number in Chicago at a similar point in the 2016 race and 24 percent higher than New York at a similar point in the 2012 race. And it’s more than double the number in Boston before that bid tanked.
“It was surprising to me, in this day and age, it’s hard to find any issue where support is near unanimous,” said Steve Koczela, who led the independent polling effort in Boston. “You see very strong support for what, in other places, is a controversial idea.”