Which U.S. City Should Host the 2024 Summer Games? An Extremely Scientific Investigation


We’ve long been conditioned to assume the topic is college football when we hear the words “Rose Bowl” and “bid committee” in the same sentence. But on Thursday, when four hopeful programs have their cases for inclusion considered by an impassive governing body, it will have nothing to do with a national championship, or even with football. (Well, the American kind anyway.) Instead, four cities — Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington D.C., and Boston — will be vying for the right to be America’s official bid city for the 2024 Summer Olympics and Paralympics.

The United States lost Olympic bids for 2012 (New York lost to London, to Mayor Bloomberg’s great distress) and 2016 (the Windy City was no match for the beaches of Rio) and hasn’t hosted a summer Olympics since Atlanta in 1996. (In 2002, the Winter Games were in Salt Lake City.) That is, many argue, a good thing: After all, the Olympics are that guest that arrives hours early, leaves painfully late, and steals all the good booze from the liquor cabinet while bumming smokes with a smile. But while no one likes to admit it, sometimes that guest can still be a pretty rad time. In small doses.

It’s a long road to becoming the host city; the IOC won’t be announcing the winner until a 2017 meeting in Lima, Peru. Between now and then stands a whole lot of glad-handing, hand-holding, and political wrangling. Opposition groups will rise and fall, scandals will come and go, budgets will balloon, and best-laid plans will be downsized. And one of four U.S. cities will most likely be along for the bumpy, wild ride! Here they all are below — ranked, in ascending order, by the volume and vehemence of replies each city generated in response to this amiable call for opinions.

LA-SkylineGetty Images

Los Angeles, California

The Pitch: The cool competence of a place that has been there and done that and seen it all before. A logo that looks like the shutter-shades you wore to Coachella. Beach volleyball in Santa Monica, its spiritual home. Rail connection (we swear!) to and from a revamped (we swear!) LAX airport. The Art Deco buildings of downtown L.A. and the hills of Hollywood as cinematic backdrops to the most unpredictable of scripts. Commemorative Olympics issues of US Weekly.

The Promotional Website: There … isn’t one? Wikipedia lists a site that leads to a dead end and left me fearing some tiny pi sign in the corner of my screen. The L.A. team seems to be focusing its energies more on backroom maneuvering than on front-facing promotion, which isn’t a bad idea at this stage of the game. SCCOG.org exists, but it’s more like reading a legal brief than a brochure. There are starving actors who have more robust web presences than the L.A. 2024 bid.

Troll Potential? Low. The biggest conflicts to arise would probably wind up being the ones between the spendy rights-holders and their worthy adversaries: professional paparazzi.

Pipe(s) Dream: Many residents are hoping and dreaming for something, anything to connect LAX airport with the rest of society. A successful Olympic bid may help to fast-track that.

Enjoyable Quirk: Gambling website Bovada gave L.A. the best odds (1:1) for winning the U.S. bid. Were the city to host in 2024, it would be L.A.’s third Olympics, which depending on who you listen to is either a big strike against it (the IOC wants new, new, new!) or one of its most redeeming qualities (… a new era of Olympic austerity!). Even Andrew Zimbalist, the oft-quoted academic who reliably cautions against hosting these sorts of big events, notes that L.A. in 1984 was a rare exception to the rule.

Requisite Quote About White Elephants: SCCOG chair Barry Sanders — no, not that one, sadly — “highlighted that Los Angeles has many permanent sports venues already in place, which could […] prevent post-Olympic ‘white elephants.’”

Reader Response: Not a word! Which is so L.A., and so great. Either everyone was still sleeping or no one could truly be bothered to care too much about one more enormous event 10 years down the road that, let’s be honest, could probably be pretty seamlessly absorbed by such a sprawling and elastic American city. Either way: I respect this silence.

Representative Olympic Sport: Women’s weightlifting: You don’t really hear much talk about it, but it’s secretly the best excuse to spend a few hours zoned out on a sofa, genuinely enthralled.

New Study Names San Francisco As Most Expensive To Buy A HomeJustin Sullivan/Getty Images

San Francisco, California

The Pitch: Why sweat your way through a day of endless preliminary heats when you can have your brow cooled by Mother Nature’s own foggy mist? The City by the Bay is not only one of the most beautiful on earth, it’s also a breeding ground for exciting, envelope-pushing innovations. (Like this one!) An Olympic Games here would sprawl between San Francisco and San Jose, but with so many existing venues in that stretch there wouldn’t be a need for too much new construction. Which is a good thing, because have you ever tried to get anything by one of these bonkers Bay Area zoning boards?!

The Promotional Website: Appears to have been created via Squarespace or somesuch. #Leverages strong and confusing Instagram #integration. Contains a section called “MILLENNIALS FOR SF2024.”

Troll Potential? So, so high. Anyone who watched the city turn into a toddler throwing a checkout-line tantrum while the (comparatively) low-key America’s Cup was in town can only begin to imagine the backlash over a full-fledged Olympics and Paralympics. This is a city that went back and forth about artificial turf for children’s soccer fields for a good 13 years. It’s hard to even fathom the lulz.

Pipe(s) Dream: San Francisco is one of a couple of prospective host cities whose original plans included a temporary stadium for the opening and closing ceremonies that could later be dismantled. But on Wednesday night, the eve of the USOC presentation, the bid committee altered the plan to include references to an as-yet-unplanned new arena in Oakland. The plot thickens.

Enjoyable Quirk: One of the fundraising ladies on the bid committee is longtime socialite Dede Wilsey, about whom the New York Times once wrote an article — headlined “Society queen, evil stepmother or both?” — that included the line “Little Twinkle is going to tinkle on this.” Also, this dress!

Requisite Quote About White Elephants: “‘We’re not going to be building white elephants in our city or anyplace in our region,’ San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee said [in December], after admitting being initially skeptical about pursuing a bid for the Games.”

Reader Response: Emails with tones ranging from the sarcastic (“Because if there is anything the Bay Area needs,” wrote Jake M., “it’s the ancillary benefits like ‘exposure’ and ‘prestige’ that hosting an event like the Olympics brings … If you don’t give the Olympics to us, we’ll totally give the restaurants in your city bad Yelp reviews.”) to the rational (“If we chose not to scrounge up money to keep the 49ers happy, why would we pay for a much larger public funding debacle?” asked Kyle M.) to the refreshingly honest (“I would protest the getting of the games,” wrote Kyle B., “but once it was approved and there was no taking back the money, I would sell out in a heartbeat, put down my civic duty hat, slap on my USA gear and go completely and totally nuts.”).

Representative Olympic Sport: Dressage, because the horses are cool and all, but everyone is weirdly uptight and you can’t go anywhere without a jacket.

As Deadline On Debt Reduction Impasse Looms, Super Committee Meets Over WeekendBrendan Hoffman/Getty Images

Washington, D.C.

The Pitch: The United States has held Olympics from Lake Placid to Los Angeles, in Squaw Valley and Salt Lake, but the Games have never come to the nation’s own capital city. An international melting pot, D.C. is the perfect place for such a global event, one where differences are cast aside and unity is celebrated, one where security lockdowns and endless rows of enormous flags are already part of the scenery. Plus, the stifling summer humidity really helps separate out the Wheaties from the chaff.

The Promotional Website: Encourages gang signs.

Troll Potential? A Washington-area Games would be taking place in the bleeding heart of the 2024 presidential election season. Just envision it now: Athletes winning gold, then endorsing some idiot candidate live on NBC as their horrified agents look on. Politicians mercilessly using any and all Olympic snafus as a way to put their mouths around the words “cut the pork.” Medal counts giving way to vote counts. So many dad jokes about gridlock. The corniness level of all of this would be off the charts. It’s a confluence of events that could overwhelm even your most prolific email-forwarding uncle. Tread carefully with this one.

Pipe(s) Dream: The D.C. bid committee emphasizes a plan to turn a blighted section of southeast Washington into an Olympic Village that could later be transitioned to low-income housing. But there are some awkward optics: For one thing, such development wouldn’t yield any affordable housing stock for another 10 years. And the vision assumes the shuttering of the D.C. General shelter. The closure has been planned anyway, Olympics or no Olympics, but provides easy ammunition for critics nonetheless.

Enjoyable Quirk: Bob Dole’s op-ed about Aryan Europe, skiing soldiers, the Greatest Generation, the horror of war, large assemblages of embassies, oh, and Washington 2024.

Requisite Quote About White Elephants: “There will be no white elephants.” —Ted Leonsis

Reader Response: Befitting of citizens who reside in such a hotbed of lobbying and legislation, several responses read like this one from Jack M: “I could go on a laundry list of why DC should not get the games — the fact that Congress just helped nullify a legalized marijuana proposition that got 2/3 of the vote and would be responsible for helping pitch in on some of the costs is somewhere on that list — but I’ll just provide this.”

Nate B. concluded his note with “So, would we like to host the Olympics? Yes, as long as your question is in the abstract and not based in reality.” Get that man a job at a think tank!!! Matt B. name-checked both the Obama inauguration and Dan Snyder, which was impressive.

And Tory T. had a good attitude: “The way I see it, people will moan about traffic or whatever, but then they’ll leave town and the rest of us will enjoy random sports and try to crash the party wherever the Aussies are. What’s not to like?” I think Tory T. and Kyle B. from San Francisco need to hang out.

Representative Olympic Sport: Golf: at once an old boys’ game and a relative newcomer to this whole Olympics thing.

Boston-SkylineGetty Images

Boston, Massachusetts

The Pitch: Boston Harbor. Paul Revere swinging from the church rafters. The US of Fahkin’ A. You can take your tea and stick it right there, guy, and — what’s that? Did you just tell me to shove it? You like shovels or something? You like to dig? Yeah, I’m gonna give you a big dig. A BIG FAHKIN DIG and you’re gonna like it, just how you like them apples. Tom Brady Freedom Trail baked beans hot college coeds rowing on the Charles! Beantown. The Athens of America.

The Promotional Website: The way the main picture jerks around when you move the cursor over it is designed to mimic the choppy waters that early settlers braved on their way to establishing the great commonwealth of Massachusetts. A “The Road Ahead” page is reminiscent of the Underpants Gnome business plan. Nancy Kerrigan and Mike Eruzione smile, silently willing you not to let them down after all they’ve done for you.

Troll Potential? Boston has by far the most organized and PR-savvy opposition movement of any U.S. city in consideration. NO BOSTON OLYMPICS has done its job well, being effective with just the right soupçon of annoying. (See this disingenous but totally catchy man-on-the-street video campaign.) But I actually think the biggest troll here would be for Bostonians to turn the tables on us and unexpectedly and aggressively embrace the Games with a fervor typically reserved for the Red Sox. Imagine a full decade of perceived athletic bragging rights! Oh, wait.

Pipe(s) Dream: Boston’s big selling point is how “compact” the Games could be; organizers envision people moving from venue to venue by foot or public transportation rather than in their cars. In other words, they expect fans and athletes to travel like they’re one of the tens of thousands of students overpopulating the Boston area. If college and university dorms and athletic facilities are commandeered for the Olympics in the way the bid committee suggests, it won’t be hard.

Enjoyable Quirk: “New Englanders have a well-earned reputation for being slow to embrace new ideas; but once they have done so, they are committed and resolute.” Sentence from a new John Irving novel, or line from “Understanding a Boston 2024 Olympics: A Report of the Special Commission Relative to the Feasibility of Hosting the Summer Olympics in the Commonwealth”?

Requisite Quote About White Elephants:  “Myth: Boston will need to build an 80,000-seat stadium that will become a ‘white elephant.’ Fact: New International Olympic Committee guidelines require a 60,000 seat stadium.”

Reader Response: More than a dozen responses: feverish, aggrieved, and occasionally sort of frightening — in other words, a Tuesday night at a Bruins game. One writer, Ryan S., summarized Boston with perfect prose: “It’s a city whose navigation is designed to replicate the experience of growing up Irish Catholic with 8 brothers and sisters in a 2 bedroom home.”

Otherwise, feedback came mostly from three sources:

1. The nonspecific naysayers: “NO NO NO NO NO  a thousand times  NO!!!!” … “all I have to say is PLEASE GOD NO” … “Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo” … “No one here wants it, no one.”

2. The grizzled, broken commuters: So many resigned gripes about the current state of the T and its inability to handle Red Sox crowds that my computer actually shivered and sighed.

3. The wily entrepreneurs: “I could potentially rent out my house for an exorbitant sum (I’m going to hold out for 1 year’s tuition at NYU for my son),” wrote Mark C. “The only way I’d even be remotely interested,” wrote Andrew M., “is if I can rent my house to some family that needs to be within walking distance for the rowing events for an exorbitant fee that would pay my mortgage and allow me to take my family on vacation for a month. And even then I’m extremely hesitant.”

Representative Olympic Sport: What Bostonians are most afraid of: This regatta. The reality of it all: Handball, because Bostonians can talk themselves into just about anything.

Final Prediction

Who should win: San Francisco, pleaseohpleaseohplease.

Who will win: Los Angeles. Hollywood loves a good big-budget trilogy, after all.

Filed Under: Summer Olympics, Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., Olympic Games, Olympic Bid, USOC

Katie Baker is a staff writer at Grantland.

Archive @ katiebakes