Last week, the city of Los Angeles announced that it had secured the 2028 Summer Olympics as part of a broader agreement with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) that will allow Paris to host the Summer Games in 2024. (Tokyo is hosting in 2020.) Apparently Los Angeles got a better deal from the IOC than many previous host cities: Smith College economist Andrew Zimbalist, a well-known Olympic skeptic, told the Los Angeles Times that L.A. officials received “a bunch of concessions that are significant.” Still, any Olympic host city faces a tremendous amount of uncertainty.
Writing for Acculturated last summer, during the Rio Games, I noted that the much-hyped economic benefits of hosting the Olympics rarely outweigh the costs. In fact, a recent study by economists Robert Baade of Lake Forest College and Victor Matheson of Holy Cross found “overwhelming” evidence that “in most cases the Olympics are a money-losing proposition for host cities; they result in positive net benefits only under very specific and unusual circumstances.”
That helps explain why so many Bostonians opposed their city’s bid to host the 2024 Games. As the New York Times reported in July 2015, after U.S. Olympic officials and the Boston 2024 organizing committee decided to withdraw Boston’s bid:
“Voters told pollsters that they were most concerned about having to pay for cost overruns. But they were also dismayed by what they considered as Boston 2024’s lack of transparency and the sense that a small cabal of business leaders who stood to profit seemed to be running the show in secrecy. And they questioned whether much-need improvements in transportation, housing and education would get done if the city were so focused on the Olympics.”
It’s certainly possible that Los Angeles will set a new standard for hosting a cost-efficient Olympics. With that goal in mind, L.A. officials and Olympic organizers should seek to learn from what happened in Rio, Sochi, London, Beijing, Athens, and other previous host cities.