SBJ/August 14-20, 2017/Opinion

Paris, L.A. can shift the paradigm

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S o, the decision was made. Two winners, no losers, joy in Mudville.

Paris got the 2024 Summer Olympic Games and L.A.’s consolation prize was the notable honor of hosting in 2028. Clearly, the third time is still a charm and now both cities join London as the only “modern” cities ever to host three Olympiads.

This IOC decision (which will be formally ratified by IOC’s membership at their Lima, Peru, meeting on Sept. 13), is reflective of a number of other moves that the Thomas Bach-led global body has made in recent times.

Like adding surfing and rock climbing to the Games’ program. Or creating a very focused effort in Asia (with the sequential Pyeongchang 2018, Tokyo 2020 and Beijing 2022 Games). Or acknowledging that places like Rio (2016) and Sochi (2014) both reportedly lost a LOT of money by hosting the Olympics.

These have been interesting times for the Olympic movement and, now, two Summer Games have been awarded at once. This “grouping of Games” is not unheard of and years ago media visionary Dick Ebersol was able to get the IOC to award broadcast rights for multiple Games to NBC.

However, this Paris-L.A. decision requires extra digging to see where the treasure lies.

Why?

Well, for starters, the IOC really only received two sustainable bids for the 2024 Summer Games and allocating both concurrently means L.A. now must wait 11 years for the big-top circus to come to town. Not that getting two NFL teams, an MLS team or a new name for the California-Anaheim-Orange County Angels won’t distract them in the short term!

This series of events is not unlike 1984, when the L.A. Games ushered in three decades of “glory days” for the Olympic Games, highlighted by the creation of the TOP sponsorship program, a global media rights explosion and the ending of country or ideology boycotts.

That means, as of summer 2017, L.A. can once again garner credit for ushering in the Olympic Games’ newest era.
But, this time, the era will be very different.

In Tom Friedman’s newish (late 2016) book “Thank You for Being Late,” he sums up our flat little world with one sentence. “Indeed there is a mismatch between the change in the pace of change and our ability to develop the learning systems, training systems, management systems, social safety nets and government regulations that would enable citizens to get the most out of these accelerations and cushion their worst impacts.” This mismatch, he contends (and we agree with him) is causing a lot of havoc all over the world. “It now constitutes probably the most important governance challenge across the globe.”

The Paris 2024 Olympic committee is all smiles earlier this month. From left: Director Etienne Thobois, IOC member Guy Drut, and Paris bid co-president Bernard Lapasset.
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
Welcome to the era of rapid and radical change. Amazon is a sports network. Twitter feeds are the new word-of-mouth. First-world countries trail third-world countries in concepts unimaginable just 10 years ago.

The Olympics sits in the middle of that turmoil, happily basking in the continued certainty it can continue to bring more than 200 countries to a well-funded sporting festival (or is it a picnic) where any event is plausible.

In the old days, the gathering on the village green might have included sprints, wrestling or chariot races. Since then we’ve moved on to almost everything except eggs-on-spoons, sack races and water balloons at ever-widening distances. Tomorrow (and don’t laugh), it might be League of Legends, drone racing, Counter Strike and BattleBots.

We believe L.A. 2028 will be the primal recipient of this pending inflection point. Don’t dream it’s over (to quote Crowded House) that the IOC will somehow fail or the Olympics will crash and burn. But make sure you are asking if viewers, sponsors, and data streamers will continue to buy Olympic packages and interactive AR/VR Olympics content.

It is undoubtedly easy for you, the reader, to say “yes.”

But now L.A. and Paris (to a lesser degree) must deliver. Whatever Tokyo delivers for the technology Games of 2020, Paris and L.A. will have to move the needle even further. They will have to be more efficient, less costly and void of oversized venues left behind to rot. Both Paris and L.A. are great cities of the world and given L.A. is home to Hollywood celebrities, great weather and significant wealth, we should expect the greatest show on earth.

Even better, with L.A. standing as the largest city in California (arguably the high-tech capital state of the world), the City of Angels will have much to offer mixed with considerable pressure to take the Games to a new level.

The challenge is what Paris and L.A. must show us. Like Roman senators of old, we stand poised in our togas, prepared to flip our thumbs up or down. Thrill us or be banished.

Or as the Beatles might have written 50 years ago, guarantee all of us a splendid time.

Don’t be swayed by critics suggesting both cities are wasting resources and time. Instead, demand that the world’s largest sporting cities shift the sports paradigm!

Do not talk about peace or philanthropic good deeds. Do not tell us that sport is good for the world’s social fabric.
Make the 2024 and 2028 Games so great that we beg for a select number of cities to consistently (maybe perpetually) host on a regular basis. Mr. Bach: Learn from the Grand Slams of golf and tennis, or the annual schedules of F1 and NASCAR.

Use great locations more than once. Let London, Paris, L.A., Beijing, Innsbruck and Lillehammer prove it.

Senators: How do you vote?

Rick Burton (rhburton@syr.edu) is the David Falk Professor of Sport Management at Syracuse University. Norm O’Reilly (oreillyn@ohio.edu) is the Richard P. & Joan S. Fox Professor and Sports Admin Department Chair at Ohio University and partner consultant with T1.



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