How L.A. 2028 was won


The af­ter­noon had turned un­com­fort­ably hot in Qatar as the two men stepped out­side, away from the crowds at an in­ter­na­tional sports assem­bly. They needed to speak in pri­vate.

Los An­ge­les Mayor Eric Garcetti and his com­pan­ion on that Novem­ber day in 2016 — Thomas Bach, pres­i­dent of the In­ter­na­tional Olympic Com­mit­tee — took off their jack­ets to walk along the edge of the Per­sian Gulf.

Los An­ge­les was com­pet­ing with Paris for the right to host the 2024 Sum­mer Games, and Garcetti re­calls Bach telling him the race would be tough.

This wasn’t ex­actly news. Word had spread that some IOC mem­bers con­sid­ered Paris a sen­ti­men­tal fa­vorite, if only be­cause the French cap­i­tal had lost in sev­eral pre­vi­ous bid at­tempts.

There was also the mat­ter of Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump — the IOC mem­ber­ship, com­posed of of­fi­cials around the world, had grum­bled about the newly elected leader’s “Amer­ica First” plat­form.

“There seemed to be this re­ally strong feel­ing they couldn’t say no to France,” Garcetti said.

L.A. bid lead­ers had al­ready grown wor­ried enough to fo­cus on an un­usual way to emerge vic­to­ri­ous. In din­ners and small meet­ings with Olympic lead­ers, they qui­etly pushed the IOC to name two win­ners, giv­ing 2024 to one city and 2028 to the other.

Now, duck­ing away from the assem­bly in Qatar’s cap­i­tal city of Doha, Garcetti and Bach dis­cussed the idea fur­ther.

“He needed to as­sess the po­lit­i­cal land­scape,” Garcetti said of the IOC pres­i­dent. “And we needed to do that with­out any press, any of our own staff, with­out any­thing be­ing leaked.”

As the men con­cluded their ini­tial chat and stepped back in­side an air­con­di­tioned ho­tel, they faced months of se­cret of­fers and counter-of­fers, ul­ti­ma­tums and back­room bar­gains.

On Wed­nes­day, the IOC for­mally awarded the 2028 Sum­mer Games to L.A., con­clud­ing a bid cam­paign that had al­most dis­in­te­grated be­fore it be­gan.

In the win­ter of 2015, LA 2024 — as the pri­vate bid com­mit­tee was known then — had to com­pete against Bos­ton, San Fran­cisco and Washington, D.C., to be se­lected as the sole U.S. can­di­date.

Many close to the sit­u­a­tion, in­clud­ing key U.S. Olympic Com­mit­tee staff mem­bers, con­sid­ered L.A. the fa­vorite.

The city’s $5.3-bil­lion plan had drawn praise for us­ing ex­ist­ing venues such as the Coli­seum and Sta­ples Cen­ter. In­stead of build­ing an ex­pen­sive Olympic vil­lage, LA 2024 would even­tu­ally de­cide to house ath­letes at UCLA. Bid lead­ers promised to cover all costs through rev­enue from broad­cast rights, spon­sor­ships, ticket sales and other sources.

But when the USOC board met in Denver in Jan­uary 2015 for what was de­scribed as a “spir­ited dis­cus­sion and more than one round of vot­ing,” Bos­ton emerged the win­ner.

Af­ter a po­lite but terse con­ver­sa­tion with the USOC, Garcetti com­mis­er­ated with L.A. bid chair­man Casey Wasser­man. The mayor’s of­fice had or­dered ban­ners for the vic­tory news con­fer­ence, and now had to re­turn them to the printer.

In public, bid lead­ers vowed to sup­port Bos­ton. It was a dif­fer­ent story in pri­vate.

Wasser­man, whose sports agency rep­re­sented nu­mer­ous Olympic ath­letes, had rea­son to stay in touch with USOC of­fi­cials. As the weeks passed, he kept re­mind­ing them: L.A. can step back in if any­thing goes wrong. The wait would be short. By sum­mer, Bos­ton’s cam­paign was crum­bling un­der public con­cerns about the city be­ing left with a huge debt from the Games. A USOC of­fi­cial called to make sure L.A. was still in­ter­ested. “He was check­ing our tem­per­a­ture,” Wasser­man said.

When Bos­ton with­drew a few weeks later, in late sum­mer 2015, a res­ur­rected LA 2024 fi­nally held its cel­e­bra­tory news con­fer­ence on Santa Mon­ica State Beach.

That night, bid lead­ers boarded a red-eye flight to meet with Bach at IOC head­quar­ters in Lau­sanne, Switzer­land. Af­ter months of plan­ning, and a bump in the road, LA 2024 was ready to fight for the Games.

Tim­ing was a prob­lem. The city had hosted the Sum­mer Games twice be­fore, most re­cently in 1984, a blink of the eye in Olympic years. Reusing venues such as the Coli­seum and Pauley Pavil­ion made eco­nomic sense but height­ened the sense of “been there, done that.”

This predica­ment joined a grow­ing list of con­cerns that soon in­cluded the IOC’s warm feel­ings for Paris, which had last hosted in 1924, and hes­i­tancy over Trump, then the Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial nominee. All of it be­gan to weigh on Garcetti and Wasser­man in mid-2016.

The men spoke about po­ten­tially los­ing and mount­ing an­other bid — they knew the IOC looked kindly upon cities that tried again — but it would mean re­turn­ing to pri­vate donors who had given them al­most $60 mil­lion for the cur­rent cam­paign.

“There was no way we could pull to­gether the re­sources to do it again,” Wasser­man said.

So they kept go­ing back to the idea of two win­ners. It made sense not just for them, but also for the IOC.

The Olympic move­ment had been strug­gling to at­tract hosts in re­cent years, with too many cities scared away by the risk of stag­ing a multi­bil­lion-dol­lar sport­ing event.

Four can­di­dates had backed out for the 2022 Win­ter Games. As the 2024 bid cy­cle pro­gressed, Rome and Ham­burg, Ger­many, with­drew.

Wasser­man knew he could not just go to the IOC and say, “Hey, end the process and give it to two cities.” So he called upon peo­ple who were knowl­edge­able and in­flu­en­tial in the Olympic move­ment.

There were dis­cus­sions with Amer­i­can tele­vi­sion ex­ec­u­tive Dick Eber­sol and Bri­tish busi­ness­man Martin Sor­rell. He had din­ner in Sap­poro, Ja­pan, with John Coates, the IOC vice pres­i­dent from Aus­tralia.

“It was this idea that was floated around and ex­pressed in the me­dia,” re­called Christophe Dubi, the Olympic Games ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor for the IOC. “And it took off from there.” Com­plaints about Trump from IOC mem­bers grew louder in the sum­mer of 2016 when L.A. bid lead­ers showed up at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics. Speak­ing to a room­ful of re­porters, Garcetti, a Demo­crat, tried to dis­tance his city’s bid from the Repub­li­can can­di­date’s na­tion­al­ist poli­cies, say­ing: “An Amer­ica that turns in­ward, like any coun­try that turns in­ward, isn’t good for world peace, isn’t good for all of us.”

As pres­i­den­tial elec­tion polls tight­ened in the fall, LA 2024 kept say­ing that its bid “tran­scends pol­i­tics,” but con­cerns deep­ened af­ter the Novem­ber elec­tion. The bid com­mit­tee won­dered: How many IOC votes might the new pres­i­dent cost L.A.?

Garcetti met with Bach in Doha as Wasser­man con­tin­ued mak­ing the rounds. In De­cem­ber, Bach ut­tered his first public com­ments about po­ten­tial changes in the bid­ding process.

“We said, ‘What a great idea,’ ” Garcetti re­called. “As if it was theirs.”

It was still a three-horse race with Bu­dapest in the run­ning, but when the Hun­gar­ian cap­i­tal with­drew in Fe­bru­ary, the path was cleared for two win­ners. At an April sports con­ven­tion in Den­mark, the IOC sat down with L.A. and Paris to for­mally ex­plore the idea.

Paris in­sisted it could not wait an­other four years be­cause the land it wanted to use for an Olympic vil­lage would not re­main avail­able for that long.

L.A. of­fi­cials, with the mind­set of an un­der­dog, were pre­dictably will­ing to con­sider the op­tion. Af­ter the IOC cre­ated a group to study how it might be done, Wasser­man distributed an open let­ter.

“To be blunt, LA 2024 has never been only about L.A. or 2024,” he wrote, tak­ing a none-too-sub­tle jab at Paris. “Even when the is­sue of a dual award for the 2024 and 2028 Games was ini­tially raised, we didn’t say it’s ‘L.A. first’ or it’s ‘now or never’ for L.A.”

In July, IOC mem­bers gath­ered for a spe­cial ses­sion to ap­prove the two-win­ner sce­nario.

Garcetti re­calls stand­ing in the back­ground with Paris Mayor Anne Hi­dalgo as the vote was tal­lied. Act­ing on a lark, he led her onto the stage where they raised their hands tri­umphantly.

Bach was speak­ing at the time and seemed con­fused, won­der­ing about the sud­den com­mo­tion.

“I didn’t know what the pro­to­col was,” Garcetti said. “I re­mem­ber Bach look­ing over at me like, ‘What’s hap­pen­ing?’ ”

Now that the de­ci­sion was made, the games­man­ship be­gan.

It started with pos­tur­ing as LA 2024 lead­ers wanted fi­nan­cial con­sid­er­a­tions for agree­ing to wait around an­other four years. Bach dis­missed the idea, say­ing the Games should be valu­able enough on their own.

“I don’t think you need to re­ward some­body if you give some­body a present,” he said.

The clock was tick­ing — a deal had to be struck be­fore the se­lec­tion vote in Septem­ber. If not, the IOC would pro­ceed as usual and elect one win­ner.

Over the next sev­eral weeks, the par­ties spoke by tele­con­fer­ence each morn­ing at 6 Pa­cific time. L.A. of­fi­cials then spent the day chew­ing over details and email­ing a re­sponse to Switzer­land, where it was the mid­dle of the night. The IOC would wake up and de­liver a counter-pro­posal that LA 2024 could read be­fore the next morn­ing’s call.

“It was an im­mense vol­ume of in­for­ma­tion and trans­ac­tions that had to take place in a short pe­riod of time,” Dubi said. “Yes, hard work was needed.”

There was spec­u­la­tion L.A. might seek a lump sum, but it wasn’t that sim­ple.

At is­sue was the “host city con­tract,” which com­pels the host city’s gov­ern­ment to pay off any debts should the Games go over bud­get. It also de­fines how bil­lions in Olympic rev­enue are divvied up.

“We couldn’t force them to make changes that were par­a­digm changes, that would af­fect all host city con­tracts go­ing for­ward,” Wasser­man said.

L.A. had to work around the edges.

Garcetti has heard the crit­i­cism that L.A. set­tled for sec­ond place. He doesn’t buy it.

“This deal was too good to pass up,” he said af­ter the city and the IOC set­tled on terms at the end of July.

The bid com­mit­tee per­suaded the IOC to waive tens of mil­lions in fees and pro­vide a $180-mil­lion ad­vance that would help the bid com­mit­tee dis­trib­ute a planned $160 mil­lion to youth sports pro­grams city­wide over the next decade.

The IOC also sur­ren­dered its 20% share of any sur­plus gen­er­ated by the Games. If or­ga­niz­ers fin­ish at $500 mil­lion un­der bud­get — as they have pri­vately es­ti­mated — it would be worth $100 mil­lion to them.

But the key part of the agree­ment in­volves spon­sor­ship ar­range­ments that, un­til now, had not been made en­tirely public.

The IOC had pre­vi­ously vowed to help pay for the 2028 Games with $1.8 bil­lion from its rev­enue, an amount that did not in­clude any­thing from the valu­able au­to­mo­tive spon­sor­ship that be­longs to Toy­ota un­til 2024.

L.A. bid lead­ers got the IOC to prom­ise an ad­di­tional $200 mil­lion from that cat­e­gory or, if it is not resold, hand it over for do­mes­tic sale. Ei­ther way, L.A. will have a say in how it is rene­go­ti­ated.

“If you think about how the NFL sells that cat­e­gory, they have a car, they have a truck — you could break that cat­e­gory up a lot of ways,” Wasser­man said, sug­gest­ing there’s more money to be made.

It could be a decade or longer be­fore any­one knows whether L.A. struck a good bar­gain. Ini­tial re­views were mixed, with one Olympic ex­pert say­ing Garcetti and Wasser­man “played their cards just right” while an­other in­sisted they could have pushed for more.

But there was no sign of doubt when Garcetti signed the host city con­tract in Peru on Wed­nes­day.

“Like any­thing worth fight­ing for, this was a long jour­ney,” he said. “Lit­tle by lit­tle, we got a vic­tory.”

Ten months af­ter his se­cre­tive walk along the wa­ter­front with Bach, the mayor ap­peared ebul­lient, dressed in a suit and gray sneak­ers, the epit­ome of Cal­i­for­nia cool.

As IOC mem­bers gave a stand­ing ova­tion, he smiled and waved and hugged just about ev­ery­one who came near.


IN­TER­NA­TIONAL Olympic Com­mit­tee’s Thomas Bach cel­e­brates the award­ing of fu­ture Games with Paris Mayor Anne Hi­dalgo and L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti.

WALLY SKALIJ Los An­ge­les Times

SHORTLY AF­TER L.A. re­vived its Olympic bid in 2015, Mayor Eric Garcetti held a cel­e­bra­tory event at Santa Mon­ica State Beach.

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