As sportspressnw.com first reported Thursday, the Seattle Sports Commission is about to enter into talks — defined as “informal” — with the United States Olympic Committee about the possibility of Seattle becoming a U.S. bid city for the 2024 Summer Olympic Games.
The city, via the Seattle Sports Commission, will learn what the USOC requires of an “applicant city,” and the requirement essentially boils down to what the USOC calls in its own literature “an extraordinary undertaking.”
Using the last two U.S. bid cities, New York (2012) and Chicago (2016) as examples, Seattle would have to spend approximately $10 million in an attempt to become the 2024 U.S. bid city – with no guarantee that it will win the bid over four other competing cities.
In a February letter to the mayors of 35 major U.S. cities, the USOC said it will try to streamline the domestic bid process to make it less costly. But it’s difficult to imagine a scenario in which the process will cost much less than $10 million.
Seattle Sports Commission officials are committing to nothing by holding preliminary talks with the USOC. If they don’t like what they hear, they can drop out of the process at any time, no questions asked. If they find the USOC’s bid requirements agreeable, they can proceed. Not much downside there.
The upside is that any city that actively campaigns for the U.S. Olympic bid will receive, in partial compensation for its expenditures and efforts, a series of “test” events that the USOC will use to judge its Olympic worthiness.
“Test” events typically include competitions such as the U.S. Gymnastic Championships and U.S. Cycling Championships – manageable affairs that are not so large that they overwhelm public resources, and bring in clean tourism dollars that lift the metropolitan profile.
The longer that a city participates in the USOC’s bid process, the more test events it can expect to receive.
Not many U.S. cities have so far opted to engage the USOC. In addition to Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Tulsa are reportedly willing to listen – Los Angeles is especially eager to host its third Summer Games (1932, 1984) — but Chicago, Boston and Detroit, among others, citing depleted budgets and more pressing priorities, have elected to pass.
In the run up to the 2012 Olympics in London, British Culture secretary Jeremy Hunt said, “You can take two attitudes to the Olympics. You can say, these are times of austerity, and therefore we should pare the Olympics down as much as possible. Or you can say, because these are times of austerity, we need to do everything we possibly can to harness the opportunity.”
To harness a potential Olympic opportunity now, the city that wins the 2024 U.S. bid will likely have to spend more than $3 billion just to compete with four other international cities for the Olympic bid. That $3 billion does not include costs associated with venue construction and other infrastructure.
Seventeen years ago (1996), Atlanta, the last U.S. city to host, spent $1.7 billion to on the Games and “sweated over every nickel,” according to A.D. Frazier, the chief operating officer for the Atlanta Olympic Committee.
“We’re proud we hosted the Olympics,” Frazier said. “For two weeks we were the center of the world and the Games set us up for some really good things. Today, no taxpayer can say he feels the burden from 17 years ago.”
That’s not quite the story in other cities. The New York Times reported that the 1992 Barcelona Games left Spain with a $6.1 billion debt. Athens estimated that the 2004 Games would cost $1.6 billion, but in the end it was $16 billion. It took Montreal nearly three decades to pay off the $2.7 billion it owed after the 1976 Summer Games.
Great Britain originally budgeted $5 billion for the 2012 Games and wound up spending more than $15 billion.
Prior to those Games, comedian Jackie Mason joked about investing in the London Olympics, saying, “So long as you don’t mind paying higher taxes for the next 10 years, losing half the main roads in your city, or having one ticket to share between 37 friends, it’s fantastic.
Would an Olympics in Seattle be fantastic? Or are they a nightmare not worth pursuing? As always, comments are encouraged.