This month the world turned its gaze toward South Korea and the Games of the XXIII Winter Olympiad in PyeongChang, while closer to home Americans— especially Angelenos—watched these Games with renewed enthusiasm and pride. After a decades-long Olympics drought, Los Angeles is at last bringing the Olympic and Paralympic Games back to the USA. That Los Angeles was finally able to achieve this triumph after the U.S. had so many unsuccessful candidature attempts is momentous. Yet in truth, L.A.’s selection to once again host the Games is really not all that surprising. There is simply no other city in the world more perfectly suited to host an Olympic Games. The Olympics are in L.A.’s DNA. As Los Angeles prepares to host its third Olympics, we take a look at how it finally came together and what we may expect in 2028 when L.A. hosts the Games of XXXIV Summer Olympiad.
- Written byMichele Garber
- Illustrated byChristine Georgiades
Los Angeles has been patiently waiting for this moment for years. Like an understudy who knows all her lines and stands confidently in the wings, L.A. remained poised, ready and eager—knowing the right time would present itself someday.
Every four years the International Olympic Committee (IOC) begins the process of selecting a host for an upcoming Olympics. The bidding cycle takes two years, and the Games are typically awarded seven years in advance. But before bidding with the IOC, cities must petition their own country’s Olympic Committee.
The U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) decides whether or not the U.S. will tender a bid to host an Olympic Games. If it opts to field a bid for that Olympics, it then solicits interested U.S. cities and chooses from among them the city that will represent the U.S. in a host bid to the IOC.
For the last several bidding cycles, L.A. has thrown her hat in the ring but has been passed over by another U.S. city. L.A. petitioned the USOC for the 2012, 2016 and 2024 Games but lost to New York, Chicago and Boston respectively. New York and Chicago went on to lose to London and Rio de Janeiro.
After the USOC tapped Boston in January 2015 to be the U.S. city bidding for 2024, other cities in contention—San Francisco and Washington D.C.—disbanded their organizing committees and moved on. The organizing committee for Los Angeles didn’t completely disperse.
L.A. has wanted to host a third Olympics for years and would have especially liked to host 2024, but now she’d just have to wait another four years and try again. And that was fine. L.A. is resilient and was confident that she would host a third Games … someday.
The paperwork to declare Boston’s intent to bid for the 2024 Games was not due until September, thus Boston was not officially the candidate yet. Within the first weeks and months of Boston becoming the U.S. bid city, there were rumblings of trouble. A group of Boston residents launched a fervent social media campaign to oppose hosting the Games, causing concern for the USOC—as local support is a major consideration when the IOC selects a host city.
Then-Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh announced he was not yet willing to sign the required host contract that guarantees the host city (aka the taxpayers) will be responsible for any cost overruns of the Games. On July 27, 2015, just six months after Boston was chosen as the U.S. bid city, the USOC and Boston Olympic Committee organizers regretfully scrapped Boston’s bid.
Now the pressure was on. Official applications to host the 2024 Games were due September 15, 2015, leaving the USOC and the remaining interested cities scrambling with only six weeks to submit official bid paperwork to the IOC. D.C. and San Francisco—having dismantled their bid committees in January—were not prepared to launch a bid, though D.C. gave serious consideration to mounting a last-minute effort to do so. Yet D.C. also knew L.A. had a far better shot of being chosen by USOC, and thus it would be wasting its time. L.A. was primed.
L.A. had hosted the Games of 1932 and 1984; was a candidate to host 10 previous Games; and it had gone through the national bidding process with the USOC to bid for 2102, 2016 as well as 2024 earlier that year. When fortune unexpectedly smiled on her, L.A. was ready to go. The USOC officially chose Los Angeles to replace Boston and bid on behalf of the U.S. for 2024.
L.A. would now move on to compete with Paris, Rome, Budapest and Hamburg to host the 2024 Games. Los Angeles had formed a bid organizing committee called LA24 that compiled a comprehensive and visionary three-part bid that thoroughly impressed the IOC. Yet to secure the 2024 Games, the city would need more than an outstanding bid and a smile.
Since the start of the modern Olympic era, the U.S. has bid to host an Olympiad 56 times. Los Angeles has been a host candidate 10 times. Having a Games awarded to a city is challenging and rare. The U.S. hasn’t hosted a Summer Games since 1996 or a Winter Games since 2002. Winning the 2024 Games would require doggedness, flexibility and a bit more luck.
Lausanne, We Have Problem
Things have been a little complicated for the International Olympic Committee lately. It has had to deal with more than its fair share of challenges and scandals.
The IOC had to ban a country from the upcoming Games and vacate several previously awarded medals when a state-sponsored system of doping and cheating was discovered. The IOC had to clean house among its own ranks when some members were accused of bribery during a previous bidding process. And, generally, the IOC faces ongoing criticism for lack of transparency, bias and being demanding and antiquated.
The IOC has encountered further issues while selecting cities to host future Games. A stigma has developed that hosting a Games is bad for a city, and increasingly it is the residents of cities that are preventing their towns from hosting a Games. Having an Olympics in a city used to be an immense honor and a matter of tremendous civic pride. Now residents see hosting the Olympics as a burden more than a benefit.
They believe that the cons outweigh the pros … that the Games will be an albatross, saddling taxpayers with massive debt. There is also concern that after an Olympics end, the once-glorious sports parks will be abandoned, leaving behind dilapidated venues and squalor.
In the last two bidding cycles, several candidate cities pulled their bids while still in the candidature phase, due to lack of support of their residents. During the bidding process to award the 2022 Winter Games, the candidate cities of Oslo, Norway; Kraków, Poland; Stockholm, Sweden; and Lviv, Ukraine all withdrew their bids, leaving only two authoritarian countries—Beijing, China and Almaty, Kazakhstan—vying to host the games.
Even more quizzical, with essentially no alternative the IOC awarded the 2022 Games to Beijing, which has a dry winter climate with no snow. Thus all the Winter Games outdoor competitions will be on manmade snow.
The IOC was also faced with waning interest in bidding to host a Games because the process is so arduous and expensive, and the odds of winning the bid are uncertain. Some cities have repeatedly bid, only to be frustrated by not winning the bid yet again. In recent years Madrid bid four times, Istanbul five times and Budapest six times, yet they were never awarded the games. And though it hasn’t submitted a bid in decades, Detroit holds the dubious distinction of the most host bids—seven—without ever being awarded a Games.
The high cost and effort of bidding coupled with the increasingly negative image of hosting a Games was clearly becoming a problem as fewer cities seemed interested in bidding or hosting. The IOC recognized it was time for an overhaul. It needed to reevaluate and modernize its processes, break from a century of entrenched yet obsolete traditions and refocus its priorities.
In 2014 the IOC launched a program entitled the Olympic Agenda 2020. The name does not refer to the year 2020; rather it refers to 20 + 20 elements that the Olympic movement should adopt to evolve with modern times. At its core, Agenda 2020 focuses on the athletes and their Olympic experience. Other key components include placing less attention on pageantry—producing simpler, sleeker, more modern Games; implementing sustainability and best practices; streamlining the bidding process while reducing the extreme expense of both candidature and hosting; and emphasizing events more than sports.
The Next Hurdle
Much like what happened with the candidate cities for the 2022 Games, not long after official applications to host the 2024 Games were due, candidate cities began dropping like characters in an Agatha Christie novel. Hamburg pulled its bid in November 2015 when a referendum showed nearly 52% of residents opposed hosting the Games. Rome withdrew its bid in October 2016, citing city-wide financial concerns. Budapest retracted its bid in February 2017 after residents gathered enough signatures to hold a referendum on hosting the Games. And then there were two.
Paris and Los Angeles still viewed the Games with optimism and nostalgia. Both cities previously hosted two Games and were eager to host the 2024 Olympics, which held sentimental value for both. For Paris, 2024 marks the centennial of its last Games. For Los Angeles, 2024 would be the 40th anniversary of its last Games.
Whichever city was awarded the Games, it would be its third Olympics—thus tying the record for the most Olympics, currently held by London. And both Paris and L.A. were excellent host candidates, presenting exceptional bids to the IOC. However, Paris was largely considered the front-runner, having recently been a finalist for the 2008 and 2012 Games and having not hosted for 100 years.
In inner circles, there were also whispers of a more cynical reason for Paris to prevail. The European-dominated, progressive-leaning IOC was disinclined to award the Games to the U.S. during a period when the current U.S. president could potentially still be in office.
Regardless of politics or sentiment, the IOC was faced with both a tremendous challenge and a golden opportunity. At a time when the IOC was struggling to find and retain cities to host the Games, two world-class cities were ready and eager to host. Both had submitted a financially responsible, sustainable and truly impressive bid. Though only one could host 2024, the IOC did not want to choose one and risk losing the other for a future Games.
The decision of who should host 2024 offered the IOC a grand opportunity to break from tradition and fully embrace the tenets of Agenda 2020. In a historic and unprecedented move, the IOC voted to offer dual bids to host the games in 2024 and 2028 and invited Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti to enter a tripartite agreement to determine which city would host in which year. Paris had authorization to build a $2 billion Olympic Village for the 2024 Games that would be forfeited if they waited until 2028, and thus waiting to host in 2028 was not a viable alternative.
L.A. on the other hand had little to lose by waiting until 2028. The city is so well-prepared to host, it’s practically a turnkey operation and thus would only be minimally affected by deferring its host year.
To entice L.A. to wait, the IOC sweetened the pot. In exchange for waiting until 2028, L.A. will receive up to $2 billion in incentives and avoid paying tens of millions of dollars in fees. It will receive an approximate $160 million advance to fund local youth sports. Plus it will retain a larger piece of Games revenue and not have to adhere to the practice of paying the IOC 20% of surplus revenue if the Games are under budget.
The benefits so outweighed the costs, and L.A. was not as married to the year as Paris. With the full support of the Los Angeles City Council, LA24 graciously accepted the compromise and became LA28. On September 13, 2017, L.A. was officially awarded the Games of XXXIV Summer Olympiad in 2028.
Following the Sun
On the eve of submitting the first of three official bid books to the IOC to host the Games, LA24 revealed its logo and slogan for the Games. Designed by Playa Vista ad agency 72andSunny, the logo is a soaring angel—wings and limbs outstretched, awash in rays of sunlight and the vibrant hues of an L.A. sky at dusk … violet, fuchsia, red and gold.
The slogan, Follow the Sun, represents far more than a nod to L.A.’s gorgeous, sunny climate. The angel following the sun is a metaphor for Los Angeles—a city where imaginative and inspired people come to follow their dreams … a place of innovation, creativity and optimism.
As bid chairman Casey Wasserman pronounced, “We’re inviting the world to Follow the Sun to California … to join us in L.A. for an Olympic and Paralympic Games that signal the dawn of a new era for the Olympic Movement.”
The soaring angel following the sun perfectly encapsulates the spirit of L.A.’s bid to host the Olympics as well as the grand plan for the L.A. games. The LA28 Olympics will be unlike any other prior Games. L.A. has fully embraced the possibilities of a reimagined Olympic Games through the prism of all that the region has to offer.
LA28 will be the first energy-positive Olympics. It aspires to be the greenest Olympic Games to date—sustainable and quite possibly zero waste. Some of the venues to be used during the Games, including the Coliseum, have already achieved that designation.
Dollars, Good Sense and a Legacy
The two previous Olympic Games that Los Angeles hosted were both tremendously successful. Angelenos have positive memories of the 1984 Games, and though fewer are able to recall the 1932 Games, they too had an immensely positive impact on the city. Perhaps that is why a majority of Angelenos, unlike residents of many other cities, view the Games favorably and support hosting again.
The LA 1932 Games were the first modern-era Olympics to be profitable, albeit modestly so. They took place at the height of the Great Depression; thus frugality was an essential part of organizing that Olympiad. Yet the fact that L.A. was able to stage an Olympics and not incur any debt during the Depression exemplifies the city’s aptitude for putting on a Games.
The 1984 Games was by all accounts one of the most successful Olympiads in modern Olympics history and restored the luster and magic to the Olympics at a time when the future of the movement was in jeopardy. In the years leading up to 1984, the 1968 Games in Mexico City were marred by a government massacre of student demonstrators and civilians just 10 days before the opening ceremonies.
The 1972 Games in Munich ended in the tragic murder of 11 Israeli athletes at the hands of Palestinian terrorists. The 1976 Montreal Games left the city with a $1.5 billion debt that took 30 years to pay off. And the 1980 Games in Moscow at the height of the Cold War saw a boycott by 65 Western nations because the Soviets had invaded Afghanistan.
Following so many years of turmoil, only L.A. and Tehran were willing to bid for the 1984 Games. Then the Islamic revolution forced Tehran out, and L.A. was awarded the Games unopposed.
Los Angeles is tailor-made to host an Olympics.
Los Angeles had passed a referendum preventing taxpayer money being used to fund the Games. Peter Ueberroth and the LA84 organizing committee found a way to make the Games profitable through fiscally responsible practices. They minimized costs and avoided accumulating debt by using existing venues.
Recognizing that there were opportunities to develop and enhance revenue streams, they sold the broadcast rights for four times as much as the Montreal Games. They promoted ticket sales and generated income through sponsorship, licensing and branded merchandise. And they gave the Games a Hollywood makeover, producing star-studded spectaculars and returning glamour and excitement back to the Games. After 1984, many cities saw what L.A. was able to do and once again chose to compete to host future Games.
Angelenos still effuse about the infectious positive spirit in the city during the 1984 Games … the lack of traffic … the civic pride. The 1984 Olympics produced a slew of national heroes, notably Mary Lou Retton, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Greg Louganis and Carl Lewis. There were 2.9 million tickets sold for the various events, generating $155 million in revenue.
The 1984 Games were so successful, there was approximately a $225 million surplus—allowing the Games to leave an enduring legacy for Southern California and for the U.S. Olympic Movement. Of that surplus, $111.4 million was used to form the U.S. Olympic Endowment based in Colorado Springs, Colorado, which supports the Olympic Movement in the U.S. by overseeing the endowment that funds the USOC and its member organizations.
A sizable portion of the 1984 surplus was also used to form the LA84 Foundation. Since its inception, the original endowment of $93 million has grown to $160 million, and more than $230 million of that endowment has been reinvested in Southern California to support local youth sports programs and athletic education and to advance the Olympic and Paralympic Movement by encouraging youth to participate in and experience the power of sport. More than 3 million youth have been impacted, and more than 80,000 coaches have received training through LA84 grants and programs.
Among the numerous programs supported by LA84 is the National Junior Tennis and Learning program, where Serena Williams and Venus Williams first got their start in the sport. The sisters both went on to win multiple Olympic gold medals.
The fiscal model that led to the success of the 1984 Games is essentially the same one being employed to produce the 2028 Games. Most of the venues that will host the Games—97% of them—are already in place; either they already exist, were already in the planning or construction phase, or will be temporary. The games are anticipated to have an $11 billion positive incremental economic impact for California and an $18 billion impact for the U.S. The Games are also estimated to create 75,000 jobs and $5 billion in added wages.
The 2028 Games are projected to cost $5.3 billion, though those estimates were calculated for hosting 2024 so they may be moderately adjusted. Though that amount may sound high, for the sake of comparison the London Games in 2012 were originally projected to cost $4 billion but actually cost $14 billion. It’s estimated that the 2008 Beijing Games cost between $40 and $44 billion. And the 2014 Sochi Winter Games were the most expensive Olympics in history, ringing in at a whopping $51 billion—10 times the amount L.A. is projected to spend.
These extreme expenditures in host cities are largely due to having to build new, expensive venues—often with public funds. That is an issue that L.A. does not have. The city already has everything it needs to host the 2028 Games. In theory, L.A. could feasibly host an Olympic Games within a matter of weeks or months from now. Los Angeles is tailor-made to host an Olympics.
Let the Games Begin
Prior Olympic Games have usually centered around one main Olympic Park, which would include the athletes village, the main stadium or venue that housed opening and closing ceremonies, the cauldron, along with most competition venues and the media and visitor centers. Had Boston continued its bid for the games, it envisioned such an Olympic Park and was proud to tout that it would be the “walkable” Olympics. The layout of Los Angeles doesn’t exactly play to that scenario.
L.A.’s primary strength in hosting a Games is that it already is a world-class sports city. The region boasts 11 professional sports teams, state-of-the-art arenas, stadiums, sporting and entertainment venues, and is the #2 sports television market—reaching 5.319 million homes and providing a built-in enthusiastic sports fanbase.
Rather than creating a Games based on how previous cities have operated, L.A. decided to highlight and utilize the vastness of the city and the diversity and variety of its neighborhoods. The 2028 Games will take place throughout the city and the region and feature four main unique sports parks. These parks will include Downtown LA, the Valley, the South Bay and Long Beach.
Each sports park will embody the neighborhood where it is located as well as the city at large. Each will have a secure perimeter around the venues, feature multiple Olympic competitions, and offer dining, retail and entertainment options.
Other venues throughout the region will also be used to host varying events including the Forum, the Rose Bowl, Pauley Pavilion, Honda Center and the new Los Angeles Stadium.
Golf will take place at Riviera Country Club, and a temporary venue will be built in Santa Monica to host beach volleyball.
The DTLA Sports Park will be the most prominent of the four parks. Competitions will take place at the Staples Center, the Microsoft Theater, the Los Angeles Convention Center, the Coliseum, the Galen Center and other area venues. The media village and media center as well as Olympic family housing will also be located downtown. The entire span from the L.A. Live to USC will be linked along Figueroa by an interactive pedestrian zone.
For the opening ceremony, a lit torch will be run down the famous Coliseum peristyle and through the stadium, then out into the streets of L.A. for a relay that will culminate in the Los Angeles Stadium.
The StubHub Center will be the heart of the South Bay Sports Park and will feature cycling, tennis, rugby and field hockey. Near the South Bay, though not in the South Bay Sports Park, the Forum will host all of the gymnastic disciplines, and the new Los Angeles Stadium in Inglewood will host archery and co-host the opening and closing ceremonies with the Coliseum.
One of the organizing committee’s concerns was avoiding the “been there, done that” feeling of hosting a third Olympic Games if the same venues were used. Impressively, 80% of the venues to be used during the 2028 Games were not used in the 1984 Games. And though when it previously hosted the 1984 Games L.A. had dozens of outstanding venues to stage competitions which still exist today, the city has enjoyed a renaissance in entertainment and sports in the past three decades that have changed the landscape of the city and offer new options for hosting events.
Venues such as the Staples Center, the StubHub Center and the Galen Center have all opened since the last L.A. Olympics. In addition, the 22,000-seat Banc of California Stadium in Exposition Park will open this spring, and the new $2.6 billion, state-of-the-art Los Angeles Stadium is under construction and estimated to open in 2020.
Several other Los Angeles athletic and entertainment venues that will be used for the 2028 Games have been or will be upgraded. The Los Angeles Forum reopened after a $50 million renovation in 2014.
USC green-lit a $270 million renovation to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Built in 1923, the iconic stadium played host to the opening and closing ceremonies of both the 1932 and 1984 Olympic Games. Enhancements to the stadium will include replacing all seats while reducing the number of seats, adding aisles and increasing legroom in many sections, adding handrails, upgrading the technology so the stadium is state-of-the-art, restoring the iconic peristyle, and adding a new tower with loge boxes, club seats and suites, a new concourse and media boxes.
USC recently completed a major addition of new on-campus housing, which will be the media village during the 2028 Games. UCLA, which will be the site of the athletes village, has plans to add additional housing to its campus. And NBC Universal, which has broadcast rights to the Olympics through 2032, will build several new sound stages and a new broadcast complex in Universal City that will serve as the International Broadcast Center for the Games.
These exceptional venues will enable Los Angeles to host an Olympic Games that reflects all that is new and exciting in the 21st century. The L.A. 2028 Games will pay homage to the time-honored traditions of earlier Olympiads yet fully embrace technology, innovation and forward-thinking. The 2028 Games will offer the athletes cutting-edge competition and training facilities.
One issue the LA28 organizing committee grappled with was whether to host the opening and closing ceremonies in the Coliseum—which is the quintessential Olympic venue, rich in history yet slightly prosaic—or in the spectacular new Los Angeles Stadium—which embodies the visionary spirit and ingenuity of today’s Los Angeles. Ultimately, the committee came up with a brilliant and groundbreaking idea: The ceremonies will take place in both stadiums simultaneously.
For the opening ceremony, a lit torch will be run down the famous Coliseum peristyle and through the stadium, then out into the streets of L.A. for a relay that will culminate in the Los Angeles Stadium. Fans at the Coliseum will be treated to the world-class entertainment for which L.A. is renowned.
Meanwhile, traditional opening ceremony activities including the raising of the flags and the parade of athletes will take place in Los Angeles Stadium. When the torch arrives, the cauldron will be lit simultaneously in both arenas, and fans at both locations will be treated to spectacular fireworks shows.
For the closing ceremonies, the festivities will occur in reverse with the traditional closing activities mainly occurring in the Coliseum, while Los Angeles stadium will provide a simulcast and live entertainment.
We Get Around
It is common to hear people speak about how smooth the 1984 Olympics were and how L.A.’s infamous gridlock was nonexistent. In the months and years leading up to the Games, there was constant trepidation of how the city’s notorious traffic could potentially have an adverse effect on the Games. Yet when the Games began, the traffic magically disappeared.
Credit was due in part to great planning and partly due to locals leaving town or opting to stay off the roads. Nevertheless, the projected traffic nightmare never materialized.
Yet it has been 34 years since the 1984 Games, and L.A. has grown substantially. Along with all the new residents are new cars on the already overcrowded roads. What used to be a normal, tedious rush hour commute back then may be considered holiday-light traffic now. Since 1984 the population of the city of Los Angeles has added an additional 1 million residents. L.A. County is one of the fastest growing regions in the country, and some estimates predict the county could add 4 to 5 million more people by 2025.
Transportation and mobility are vital components of every Olympic Games and required elements of consideration in each Olympic bid. In a densely populated, sprawling city like Los Angeles, after infrastructure and security, transportation is certainly one of the most important considerations. For decades Los Angeles has been actively working to not just address its current transportation needs but to develop a future vision of mobility for the rapidly growing city of our future.
Since 1980 L.A. has passed four ½-cent sales taxes to fund transportation planning and infrastructure. It’s been a long time in the making, but today the decades of effort and planning have paid off. By the time L.A. hosts the 2028 Games, the city will have completed many of its long-range mobility plans and will have a vast and interconnected system of subways, light rail, dedicated bus lanes and expanded highways that will enable the athletes and spectators to get to any Olympic venue swiftly and easily.
Some of the many enhancements to the transit system will include a light rail to LAX that will connect with a people mover to take travelers from the terminal to a new rental car hub. The Purple Line will be extended to Westwood Village, and a regional connector in DTLA will provide riders with easier and more direct access between lines.
During the Games organizers will implement temporary initiatives to further enhance mobility including limiting deliveries to nighttime; offering free public transport to those attending Olympic events; creating an Olympic Route Network of dedicated lanes that only permitted authorized vehicles can use to commute between venues; and using other means to limit traffic through issuing parking permits, limiting venue access and more. In 10 years, who knows … autonomous vehicles may be so commonplace, athletes and visitors will be riding self-driving shuttles to their events.
10 Years to Showtime
When Los Angeles welcomes the athletes of the world to her shores on July 21, 2028, it is a given that much will have changed … things we can’t even imagine. In our modern world, 10 years is an eternity.
Consider the past decade. It was 10 years ago that Apple introduced the iPhone. It is impossible to measure how our daily lives have been impacted by that singular device.
Most cities preparing to host an Olympics have seven years. L.A., because of the unique circumstance in which the Games were awarded, will have 11 years. With all of the creativity and imagination that will be invested into planning the 2028 Games, it is still nearly impossible to fully envision what our lives or the Games may be like in the next 10 years. It’s mindboggling.
Yet it is L.A.’s visionary spirit that was one of the key factors in winning the Olympic host bid. We are an inspired, innovative and imaginative city. Our optimism and futuristic mindset perfectly align with the mission of the Olympic Movement.
In coming years, much will be discussed, written, prophesied and explored leading up to the opening days of the XXXIV Olympic Games. Much is yet unknown, but how exciting and inspiring these next 10 years Following the Sun will be.