A unanimous 16-0 vote by all members of the US Olympic Committee a half year ago put Boston on the fast track to host the 2024 Olympics. Boston competed with three other U.S. cities to be selected as the official USOC choice. But earlier today, Boston Mayor John Walsh announced publicly that he would not sign the application letter that is absolutely essential to be considered a potential bidder by the International Olympic Committee. Then the leaders of the USOC and the Boston 2024 Committee issued a joint press release in which they confirmed that the USOC will not be presenting a Boston 2024 candidacy to the leaders of the International Olympic Committee.
The speed and negativity of news reporting about Boston’s withdrawal showed how much of the admiration and goodwill that American athletes have earned has been eroded by bad news about the 2024 bid. Objections to the proposed Boston 2024 bid from many influential local leaders and huge revisions to the original plan damaged credibility. Television stations in Paris, whose Mayor and City Council are firmly behind a bid that appeals to many sports leaders, reported the Boston withdrawal on local evening news less than two hours after the USOC made Boston’s withdrawal public. Canadian Broadcasting Company, the official broadcaster of the Pan American Games, reported the announcement almost instantaneously. The recent announcement by the Canadian Olympic Committee that it considers Toronto well prepared to submit a good bid to host the 2024 Olympics made Boston’s move headline news in Canada. The influential trade publication, “Inside The Games” already reported earlier this weekend that withdrawal of the Boston 2024 proposal was likely. These reports provide a valuable lesson that the Boston 2024 media relations program of one-way Twitter news feeds is not a good way to get good press.
Two of the most influential opinion makers in the U.S. media circulated widely respected reports to challenge the Boston 2024 proposal and ultimately succeeded. On June 10, Philip Hersh of the Chicago Tribune published an article titled “The time has come: No Boston 2024.” “Big decision but not difficult — kill Boston 2024,” was the even more negative headline from sports trade journal publisher Alan Abrahamson on June 19.
As Hersh wrote in the Chicago Tribune, “there is no good reason for the USOC to turn to Los Angeles as a backup. It can’t win, either, not as the hand-me-down candidate.” In addition, the finances of the City of Los Angeles have been strained and its debt rating has been cut twice in the last five years. The current debt rating is still six tiers above junk, but that is low enough for the analysts who prepare evaluations that IOC members rely upon to have serious concerns about dependability. Then there is the unavoidable reality that a key sponsor and pillar of the Los Angeles business community, Disney, owns ABC and ESPN, which compete intensely with NBC Universal, the official Olympics broadcast rights holder. NBC Universal is the single most important source of IOC funding. And the recent felony conviction of a Los Angeles police officer for a crotch kick that proved fatal raised serious doubts that Los Angeles can meet the Olympic standard of “security with a smile.” Of course, many of the consultants who advise on bid selection are understandably reluctant to visit Los Angeles and get their own crotch kicked by a similarly poorly trained officer.
What is next? This series of events has provided a textbook example of how to damage credibility and offend influential decision makers. Continuing on this path is not a good idea. A good approach might be to follow the lead of many successful athletes and become a team player.