LA Confidential – The Final Act

Terrence Burns ©2017

LA 2028 Team, Lima Peru 11SEP17

Olympic Bids are like icebergs, there are the people you “see” above the water, but below there are many more people who are working hard making things happen seamlessly. You may not see them onstage, or at an Olympic function or on the “travel team” – but they are just as crucial to the success of a bid as the stars onstage.

One of the bedrocks of the LA 2028 bid was Carla Garcia. Carla served many roles for the bid, including Executive Assistant to Gene, and the administrative manager for the office. I met Carla on her first day on the job, when she, Casey, Patricia and I all flew to Colorado Springs for Casey’s first speech to the USOC Assembly in 2015. I’m glad she stayed! She added the perfect combination of glamor and competence to our little team!

Carla Garcia, Patricia Feau – EC meeting, LA May 2017

LA 2028 had a deep bench of awesome people. Two more who deserve shout outs are Rochelle and Alexa. Rochelle Farnum was a key member of our marketing team. We always could count on Rochelle (thankfully) to give us the perspective of the “younger demo” in our marketing planning – and it was always helpful.

Alexa Carrington was a true utility player on the team. She manned the front desk but also worked on assignments with virtually every functional group. When I think of a sunny, southern Californian smile and attitude I always think of Alexa – she made everyone in the office feel, well, happy.

Rochelle Farnum, TB, Alexa Carrington – LA 2028 Celebration Party
Lenny Abbey, Rachel Issacs (USOC) – Lima

One dude who was hard to get a photo of was Lenny Abbey, our Director of National Olympic and Paralympic Committees Relations and Operations. This is the only photo I could find because he was never in the country!

Lenny worked on five summer and winter Games, and his role was to “refine  LA 2024’s plans for optimizing the Games experience for National Olympic Committees (NOCs), National Paralympic Committees (NPC) and their teams.” Lenny was our “Star Wars Bar” guy, meaning he could fit in anywhere. He was born in Sudan and lived and worked in 10 different countries in Africa, the Americas, Asia, and Europe.

And finally, the international communications firm, Weber Shandwick joined in LA 2024 on March 1, led by my freind Svetlana Picou and her excellent team.

Uncharted (Bid) Territory

As 2017 bowled along, we began prepping for what would be the most important presentation for the bid: The Technical Presentation to the IOC and International Federations in Lausanne, in July. Our saying was “Lausanne is the new Lima.”

The Bids are given “guidelines” from the IOC for the specific types of data and information expected in the presentation, and it’s usually heavy on technical details. Most bids pay lip service to this guidance because frankly, it has little to do with a winning story and strategy.  For the 2024 Technical Presentation, both bids realized they needed to go with their “A” game because at that point, we had no idea if there would even be a Final Presentation in Lima – neither did the IOC.

The IOC scheduled an “Extraordinary Session” of the IOC to discuss the bid process and 24/28. The four IOC Vice presidents were asked to present their findings and recommendations regarding the dual award and to ask for the members’ approval if indeed that is what the vice president’s recommended.

The week had many memorable moments for me personally and for the bid because we really were watching history being made.

Casey Wasserman, President Thomas Bach, Mayor Eric Garcetti – Olympic Museum Lausanne

And then this happened:

Michael Johnson, Allyson Felix, Terrence Burns – Olympic Museum Lausanne

A word about yet another USA Olympic legend who was integral to our bid, Mr. Michael Johnson (yes, he of the Golden Shoes from the Atlanta 1996 Games). Michael worked tirelessly for us behind the scenes with the Olympic Family. He’s polished, well-spoken, knowledgeable, approachable, witty, and well, he’s Michael Johnson.

Olympic cocktail parties are interesting. Often, the person to whom you are talking is simultaneously scanning the room for someone more important than you. Long ago, I learned to not take it personally, in fact, it’s rather entertaining to watch. It goes like this: “Ah, my friend (when they don’t know your name)”  “When did you arrive?” “Where are you staying?” When do you leave?” Then, boom – off to something or someone shinier.

Try walking into an Olympic gathering with Michael Johnson and Allyson Felix. It’s electric and instantaneous how quickly heads turn, and bodies gravitate to these two. Michael and Allyson are Olympic royalty in every way, and we were so honored, lucky, and humbled to have them on our team.

The Lausanne 45-minute presentation (which began with the 2016 Summer Games race) is ostensibly focused on the technical components of each bid. It was created because IOC members needed more context given they were not allowed to visit the Bid Cities.

Our speaker team/content was as follows:

Intro Film                    Physical beauty of LA

Anita:                           Opening

Casey:                          Intro team, LA 2024 Vision

Larry:                           USA’s commitment to the Olympic Movement

Janet:                          LA2024’s commitment to athletes

Games Concept Film

Gene:                          Governance & transition to OCOG, Budget

Doug:                           Accommodations & Transport

Angela:                        Olympic Village, Agenda 2020

Candace Cable:           Paralympic Plan & Overview

Allyson:                       America story/personal perspective

Mayor:                         Close, reiterate Vision

Closing Film

Anita began this presentation to the membership because she is the most senior US IOC member and one of the longest-serving IOC members in the Movement. I remember completely re-writing her remarks (with her) on the day before the presentation. Sometimes it’s like that, speakers change their minds at the last minute. And it’s fine – they need to be comfortable with what they’re going to say. IOC members speaking to IOC members tend to be more intensely interested in every word. It makes sense. Her delivery was warm, and her love of the Games and the Movement genuine and heartfelt.

Anita DeFrantz

She reminded the membership that they could trust LA, because “…we’ve been partners before, and to be frank, that relationship worked out very well – for both of us.” It was a light moment appreciated by the audience. She then referenced people in LA who attended the 1984 Games as children by introducing one of them, Casey Wasserman.

We thought it would be good for Casey to continue the reference to LA84 as his transition from Anita. Casey recounted a story from those Games, which he attended with his grandfather, the famous Hollywood agent Lew Wasserman (Mr. Wasserman was also instrumental in the LA 1984 Games). Casey said, “I remember him telling me the most remarkable thing; he said, the Olympics aren’t just in the sports business – the Olympics are in the magic business….”  Then he said, “so are we…”

We felt like we didn’t have anything to prove technically about our bid; the IOC EC report already made a case for us – and for Paris, too. So, we decided to stay true to our brand and keep focused on the attributes that LA offered uniquely – namely, a focus on the future beyond 2024. We wanted to also focus on optimism and partnership – not brinksmanship.

Casey reiterated that he did not believe this Bid was only about LA or Paris – it was about the future of the Olympic Movement. He also stated that LA’s objective was to serve the Movement’s needs, not dictate ultimatums such as “now or never.”

Casey Wasserman, Lausanne July 2017

Our goal was to demonstrate the concept of true partnership. Casey spoke of LA creating “the stories that the world loves to enjoy and the technology it uses to share them.”

We also wanted to strike up a new conversation about the word innovation. Up to that point in the campaign, the word “innovation” was overused – by everyone; it was about as unique as air. We wanted to change the conversation about innovation because it was something we did feel that we owned as a Bid.

Casey said “innovation is the key to survival, and the Olympic Movement is no different…but when we talk about innovation, we’re not talking about flying cars,  we’re talking about our mindset.” We believed that the IOC’s EC report reflected this, but subtly. With a room full of almost 100 IOC members from all over the world with different perspectives, you cannot depend on being subtle.

So, speaking of not being subtle…

Larry was up next and generated a collective intake of breath in the room when he said, “…the Olympic Games, as we all know, are not and have never been immune to politics.” Given the politics of the United States at that moment, many wondered where he was going with this narrative.

He continued, “…as Members, we strive to separate politics and sport in our decisions. I know this is difficult, especially today – it is difficult for me as well…”

Rarely has an IOC member publically shared personal feelings about the challenges all Members must face regarding geopolitics and the Games. It was especially challenging for an American IOC member in a Bid presentation with – and let me put this as mildly as possible – as controversial a President of the United States as we had at that moment. After the November 2016 US presidential election, I felt like our Bid was trying to thread a needle in a hurricane – at night – with gloves on. It was a powerful moment, and the members watched and listened intently.

Larry Probst, Lausanne 2017

Larry then talked about the USA’s commitment to the Olympic Movement in terms that were bold, but we felt needed. For example, did you know that at the Rio Games, over 1,000 Olympians from 107 countries trained at universities in the United States? They won 58 medals in 18 sports.

Let me put it another way,” Larry said, “our university system actually trains your athletes to compete – and to win – against American athletes.”

Then the kicker, turning a controversial US political tagline on its head.

He said, “Dear colleagues, that isn’t putting America first, that’s putting the Movement first.” Many members smiled, a few grimaced, and some looked genuinely confused. But, it had to be said.

Like I said, Larry got the pointy bits, and he delivered.

Janet was up next and was a charming and buoyant as always. Janet is a fierce competitor, and of all the speakers, she probably needed the least amount of practice. Yet, Janet was always the first speaker to ask for additional practice time – every time. That’s why she’s the champion she is.

Janet painted a picture of a city committed to and dedicated to sport. She reminded the room that over 1,000 Olympians and Paralympians choose to live and to train in LA, every day (I found that fact astonishing when I learned it). Janet oversaw LA 2028’s outreach effort to over 4,000 Olympians and Paralympians from around the world, obtaining their input into our Games Concept.

Janet Evans, Lausanne 2017

Janet went onto to explain the framework of our Games plan, full of existing, modern venues as a prelude to the technical film to follow. But to starkly draw a distinction with Paris, she closed with these lines:

We could have built a new Olympic Village – but we didn’t. 

We could have built a new Media Village – but we didn’t.

We could have been an array of other new venues – but we didn’t.

What we did do was build the best 2024 Games Concept for our city, the athletes and the Olympic and Paralympic Movements for the future.”

Gene was up next, and as CEO, he had the unenviable task of speaking about governance, budget and our transition plan to an OCOG. These were not exactly the most scintillating topics, yet profoundly important as recent troubled Games have shown.

Gene noted he’d asked his fellow Goldman Sachs colleague, Paul Deighton, the former CEO of London 2012, for some advice. He said Paul’s advice was simple: “take care of the athletes first, then make sure you take in more money than you spend…”  It got a chuckle from the audience; really, a budget reference got a laugh. You just never know.

Gene Sykes, Lausanne 2017

Gene also had another crucial point to clarify for the audience. LA 2024, like all US Bids before it and US Games as well, was funded by a private enterprise model.

The US doesn’t have a cabinet-level sports minister. There is no national budget or funding mechanism for sports. Our system of sport is privately funded.

For many in the audience, this “private model” concept could be perceived as risky – what do you mean the government doesn’t fund your Bid or your Games? A government-funded or supported model is one that many nations represented in the room were used to.

Our US model is an outlier. Some of our Bid’s detractors were working being the scenes to portray our model as “risky,” and no doubt, our current political climate back home helped further that view.

Gene pointed out that our model made LA 2024 independent from government influence, and this would apply to our Games as well. As an aside, one only need to look at Tokyo 2020 to understand how government interference with an OCOG has its own set of challenges.

Doug Arnot was up next with the equally unenviable topics of transportation, accommodations, and security. Doug is an excellent speaker. He is knowledgeable. He is animated. He understands the ebb and the flow of the content, and he has a great smile.

But most of all, Doug has a voice that sounds like the voice of God.

This is a speech writer’s dream. It means that even if half the audience isn’t listening to what he is saying, they are listening to how he is saying it. But Doug’s content was as good as his delivery.

Doug Arnot, Lausanne 2017

For transport, Doug cut to the obvious: “…traffic is a challenge in major cities all around the world – and LA is no different…but there is a huge difference between daily traffic problems and an Olympic and Paralympic transport plan.”

In other words, we decided to hit this issue head-on (we’d learned this from an aggressive question about our traffic from one of the EC members during our EC visit). Frankly, it was Patrick Baumann who answered it before we could. I am paraphrasing here, he said, “…it isn’t the OCOG’s responsibility to fix a city’s ongoing traffic problems, it only has to minimize them with a great plan acceptable to the IOC during Games time.”

It was one of the most eloquent, honest, and logical points I ever heard in an EC meeting. Suffice it to say that the EC and the members were fine with LA 2028’s transport plan. Casey used to joke, “if you want to stop traffic in LA, hold an Olympic Games because, in ’84, no one was on the road…”

Angela was up next to give an overview of LA 2028’s incredible site for the Olympic Village – the campus of UCLA. Angela was Chair of the IOC’s Athlete’s Commission, and she had been a member of several IOC Evaluation Commissions. I’ve known Angela a long time, and she takes her IOC duties and roles very seriously.

Angela Ruggerio, Lausanne 2017

Angela stressed that when assessing a Bid’s plans, she focuses on the plan for the Village. She said, “…the Village is one of the most important aspects because it is the athletes’ home…and it is often one of the most challenging aspects of every new OCOG (because it has to be built) … well, we have some good news for you – LA 2024 offers you an existing Village … and it’s amazing”. And it is.

When the EC visited it on the UCLA campus, they were, without question, blown away that 10,500 athletes could theoretically walk into it tomorrow and almost everything would work out perfectly. This hadn’t been offered since – wait for it … the 1984 Games in LA! We also weren’t shy about using the exact same words that the IOC used to describe our bid and plan – “forward-looking, innovative and cool.”

Candace Cable, Lausanne 2017

Next up was Candace Cable, Vice Chair of the bid and Director of Paralympic and Disability Engagement for LA 2024. Candace has won multiple medals in both the summer and winter editions of the Paralympic Games, and she competed in LA 1984.

Candace stressed that LA 2024’s goal for the Paralympic Games was equality of experience with the Olympic Games. She stressed the input by Paralympians into our plan and how the Paralympics and Olympics would be planned and implemented as a single organizational effort. Candace did a great job of delivering her remarks intimately in a large space and room.

News of Allyson’s remarks in Doha almost a year earlier had spread, and everyone in the room was waiting as she approached the podium. IOC members meet, see and hear Olympians all the time, it’s part of their jobs. But Allyson, a six-time Olympic champion, and eleven-time world champion, always got a round of sincere, impressive applause from the room. She deserved it.

Allyson again spoke about the USA because we felt like we needed to address our politics head on – our competitors certainly were. She said. “in many ways, America is an experiment, still unfolding … and watching something form and mature can be refreshing and beautiful, but it can also be awkward or difficult.”

She went on to say that it’s important to always take the long view because “short-term views can cause old friends, even like us, to doubt each other.”

She also quoted her favorite Martin Luther King, Jr. quote because, she said, “it’s about hope, but it’s also about taking the long view.” Here’s the quote:

We must accept finite disappointment…but never lose infinite hope.

Allyson Felix, Lausanne 2017

She continued: “All I can do is tell you about the America that I know and love. First, America isn’t perfect, no country is…but we always strive to be better tomorrow than we were yesterday.

Second, a nation isn’t just a political construct, a nation is a family of people. Many of you have friends that live in America…and some of you or your children even attended school there…that’s not because of our government, it’s because of our people.”

And finally, “…there is no such thing as a typical American. Look at me. My heritage is African…my ancestor’s path to my country was one of bondage, not one of freedom…but out of that painful past, our nation grew, it adapted, and it changed for the better – and it will again.”

I still get goosebumps watching her in that presentation. It was simple and brutally honest about our country. Just what the audience needed to hear instead of jingoism, boasts of exceptionalism and blind confidence.

Bringing it home was Mayor Garcetti. To say the man knows how to give a speech is like saying Frank Sinatra knew how to sing pretty well. The guy delivers; every time. The challenge I thought I would have with Mayor Garcetti was a simple one that I have with every Bid City mayor: the audience and the message are completely different from a local political campaign. But, it was never a challenge at all – true to form, Mayor Garcetti understood the nuances implicitly and never looked back.

The LA 2024 Technical Presentation can be viewed here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c3_3IlXtu1U&t=2422s

After the presentations, the IOC vice presidents made their own presentation to the room about the proposed dual award of 2024 and 2028. I think everyone knew what the results would be, but for long-time students of the IOC like me and many others, it was interesting to watch it all unfold, real time. There were a few questions to President Bach and the VPs, but it was clear the IOC members would go along with the proposal – and they did, unanimously with a show of hands.

Now, the question as to which city would host 2024 and which would host 2028 boiled down to the negotiation of a “tripartite agreement” between the IOC, and the LA 2024 and Paris 2024 Candidature Committees.

Mayor Eric Garcetti, President Thomas Bach, Mary Anne Hildago

It didn’t take long. On 31 July, both cities and the IOC reached an agreement where Paris would host 2024, and Los Angeles 2028. The only piece left to complete the 24/28 puzzle was a “ratification” by the IOC membership at the IOC Session in Lima, Peru in September.

The Final Lap – On to Lima

For Lima, it was decided that each city would give a twenty-minute presentation to recap their Candidatures. Normally, this “Final Presentation” is forty-five minutes in length, and represents the emotional climax of the two-year campaign. These presentations are filled with the Bid’s key messages, soaring Olympic rhetoric, and punches and counter punches sometimes disguised by humor, humility, or charm; and, finally, the emotional “ask” for the Games.

The 2024/2028 agreement changed the typical Final Presentation dynamic. It was no longer a campaign, depending on a secret vote and a sealed envelope, which would send a planeload of people home either in ecstasy or in despair. That aspect evaporated.

So, we had to recalibrate what we were going to say and how we were going to say it.

Out went the well-honed, sharp-elbowed messages about our key differentiators. Out went the lyrical, soaring rhetoric about looking forward to the future, not back at the last one hundred years. And out went the proactive positioning about the current state of American political affairs and its impact on our Bid.

Instead, we focused on gratitude, partnership with Paris and the Movement, and how LA 2028 would help create New Games for a New Era.

Oh, and there were two more crucial issues to decide: tie or no tie, and sneakers or dress shoes? Casey advocated for sneakers in previous presentations, and he finally got his wish in Lima. As to ties, we decided at the very last minute – and I mean in the very last Green Room minute – to go with ties for the men. It worked out fine.

LA 2028 presentation team in casual LA style

Our presentation opened with a beautiful film of LA by one of the Mayor’s favorite filmmakers, Colin Rich. The film can be viewed at

Next, our three IOC members, Anita, Larry, and Angela opened with a brief welcome to their fellow members. Each carried a distinct yet unified message of friendship and gratitude, and they did a wonderful job of hitting the right balance of humility and pride.

Janet was next with a poignant note about her father, and how this campaign would be his final opportunity to see Janet in her “final race,” and how she wanted to share one more victory with him. I remember showing her the first draft. I was a bit nervous I’d included something so personal in her speech. She sat in my LA 2028 office and read it with eyes full of tears, which of course, made me tear up as well.

I told her I’d be happy to take it out and try something else and she said, “no, this is really something I’d like to say…especially for my Dad…I just hope I can get through it.” We made a vow not to look at each other in rehearsals or in the actual presentation – because I knew we’d both react emotionally.

In the presentation, I watched her work up to this moment in the speech. I saw the grit and the determination that made Janet Evans the Olympic legend that she is. I knew she was struggling a little bit, but she took a big breath, smiled that great smile of hers, and got through the part about her father beautifully.

She touched many in the audience, including my friend and former Madrid 2020 client, Juan Antonio Samaranch. After the presentation, he grabbed me and said, “Terrence, your presentations always make me cry…Janet touched my heart.” I said, “then you should tell her, my friend, it was all her up there, not me.” I hope that he found Janet that afternoon, and told her.

IOC Vice President, Juan Antonio Samaranch, Terrence Burns – Lima, Peru

Casey really “grew” as a public speaker over the course of the campaign, and he was good, to begin with. Given his business, he delivers dozens of speeches and prepared remarks year around. He is at his best, however, unscripted; and he is one of the absolute best interviewees I’ve ever seen; genuinely gifted.

Olympic presentations are different. They tend to be highly scripted because it is a story told through several speakers, each with different yet complementary remarks, all supported by background slides and films. This can make it difficult for someone who is more accustomed to a free-wheeling speaking style.

I was very proud of Casey’s performances in all four of LA 2028’s official presentations. In my opinion (both personal and professional) he generated the perfect mix of gravitas, humility, chutzpah ( look it up), and California charm that the bid needed from its young Chairman.

Casey began by thanking Larry and Scott for their incredible work over the past seven or so years, re-engineering the image and reputation of the US within the Olympic Movement. LA 2024 would not have been standing on that stage without the efforts of these two gentlemen – period. And, neither Larry or Scott would have been on that stage without LA – which Scott would acknowledge later in his remarks.

Casey said, “Today is the last time I’m addressing you as Chairman of the LA 2028 Bid Committee…and to be honest, for two years I’ve wondered what I would say at this moment.”

He went on to say that the bid process taught him a valuable lesson about perceptions. More specifically, he said that “it is human to make assumptions about each other…and far too often those assumptions are wrong…we only truly learn to understand and appreciate each other when we connect as individual human beings.” How ironic (and profound) for an American bid leader to be discussing stereotypes…

 

Watching the Final Presentation of every bid I’ve worked on, I’m very focused but slightly melancholy as well. I know it’s over. I know that bluntly, all the emotion and intensity of two years has reached its final, beautifully poignant moments.

As I sat there watching Casey give his final speech, my mind flashed back to the first time we met in his office. It seemed like yesterday. When you begin a Bid, it feels as if it will go on forever, yet when it’s over, it is amazing how quickly it flew by.

You realize there is a good chance you will never see any of these people again. And you are aware that they are not aware, they cannot be, of any of this. It’s a little heartbreaking, to be honest.

I looked at the LA 2024 team sitting around me. These were the people with whom I’ve traveled the world for two years. We shared stories together, we celebrated birthdays, holidays and meals together, and we laughed (a lot) and even shed a few tears together. They had no idea, really, what they’d just accomplished, but it would hit them soon enough.

It’s always a touching moment for every bid, but LA 2024 was different for me because for the first time I was part of a team of my own citizens – I was no longer an outsider. I felt part of them in a way I’d never felt part of any bid. I honestly felt like we were a family – maybe The Addams Family at times (again, look it up) but a family nonetheless. Families love each other, regardless.

When President Bach held up the Paris 2024 and LA 2028 envelopes, I turned around and trained my phone’s video camera on our team and its reaction. They looked like kids on Christmas morning. I still watch it from time to time.

Scott Blackmun followed Casey and our technical film. As long-time CEO of the USOC, Scott was very well known to the audience in the room. I’d never written for Scott, so this was new to both of us.

Often, I have to imagine what someone would say when I write their first draft, but, I’d known Scott a long time, so it was a bit easier. Scott is a quiet and humble person who is extraordinarily capable but doesn’t wear it on his sleeve. I wanted to reinforce that in his remarks.

Scott graciously began by saying that the quality of the LA bid was the result of two people: Casey and the Mayor. He said, “…these two gentlemen never gave up on LA’s Olympic dreams – and thank goodness they didn’t”; a not-so-veiled reference to the LA team saying “yes” after Boston said “no.” I also felt it was important for Scott to reference that the USOC was one of many, not THE one of many. His natural humility was the perfect touch.

Allyson was next up, she brought her magic to Lima and didn’t disappoint. Echoing Casey’s remarks, Allyson said that the Olympic Movement teaches us about respect for others. She pointed out that Olympians are natural diplomats because they have to be.

Allyson Felix, Final Presentation, Lima, Peru

Think about the pressure and complexity of ten thousand athletes living together in the Olympic Village…preparing for one of the most important moments of our lives…we get one chance to win…that’s a lot of competitive people in one small space…it could be chaos, but it’s not…we make it work because we respect each other.”

She also got a laugh from the audience when she spoke about the need for diplomacy. She said, ” So, if anyone from the UN is watching this today, you might consider Olympians as future diplomats because if you can live peacefully, side by side with your fiercest competitors for 17 days in a row, believe me, you can get along with anybody!”

She closed on another personal note. She said, “…generally, most Olympians don’t get to spend a lot of time with IOC members…and now that I have, I can describe my experience with all of you in three words – It’s been wonderful.”  Then the smile. And the room melted.

Now it was time for our closer, Mayor Garcetti, to bring us home – figuratively and literally.

I’ve written a lot here about Mayor Garcetti. All I can add is that whatever I wrote for him, his delivery or adaptations always made it better. He is an extraordinary person, and if he chooses to dedicate the rest of his career to public service, everyone, everywhere will benefit from it.

Mayor Eric Garcetti, Final Presentation Lima, Peru

Both the Paris 2024 and LA 2028 Final Presentations can be viewed here:

Endings

When the Almaty 2022 bid campaign was over, the staff sent me a giant card with the lyrics from the soundtrack to the 1967 movie, To Sir, With Love. The movie is about a teacher, played by Sydney Poitier, in a troubled school in East London. He is a tough task-masker, but in the end, the students come to love and appreciate him. They all signed it, even the ones who didn’t speak English. I found it very touching, and it reflected a sweet sentimentality that isn’t universal everywhere in the world. It summarized my Almaty experience, and to some degree, LA as well.

Bids are like that. In the beginning, consultant’s roles literally are as teachers. Working with bid committees is an honor for me. It is one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. I get adopted, more or less, into a small family of dreamers like myself. Believers. And sometimes, together we achieve something so beautiful and unique that it will impact a city and its people for generations to come. I’ve had that honor five times in my career, but as I said, LA 2028 was special for a lot of reasons.

LA 2028 was a joy to work on. I began working there about a week a month in the initial phase of our contract. Early on, Casey and Gene asked me to serve as the Bid’s Chief Marketing Officer, and to do that justice, I agreed to spend two weeks a month in LA.

Gene and Casey eventually asked if I could work full-time in LA for the last almost year of the bid; I couldn’t do that, but I did agree to three weeks a month in LA (that took some finessing with my wife, to be honest). The Bid rented an apartment in Westwood for me, and I walked to work and back every day. It was glorious; really it was, all of it.

All in all, I’d never spent as much time in one city for a single Bid as I did for LA. And I must be honest, it’s a place that’s easy to fall in love with. From Malibu to Laguna, and from Santa Monica to Silver Lake, it was a city that I never tired of. I will miss it, every bit of it.

So, to my LA 2028 family, thank you from the bottom of my heart, Godspeed, take care, and have fun. You’ve earned it.

And to the IOC and the Olympic Movement, you’re in good hands for 2028.

Finally thank you, Aaron Schulman, Corrine Taylor, Allen Vo, Amedea Tassinari, Rodrigo Libano Soares, Daniel Zayas, Cristina Lucas, Jim Ford, Thomas Martin, Tiffany Rockman, Tony Vitrano, and Carley Markovitz! And if I’ve forgotten anyone, leave me a comment, and I will fix it–

Follow the Sun.

A few final memories with some very special people.

Rio 2016 Press Conference
Cosette, Terrence, Janet – Aarhus

 

Mark, Brock, Terrence – Lima
Angela, Janet, Allyson – Lausanne
Matt, chillin’ in Janet’s office
Allyson rehearsing for Doha
Casey taking photo of Terrence with Casey’s grandfather’s Oscar
Jeff, Danny, Matt, Terrence – Food Truck Time
Tanja, Cosette, Peter, Terrence – Dinner!
Mark, Danny, John, Terrence – Doha
Mark, Brock, Terrence – La Dolce Vita – Beverly Hills hideaway
Victory Party – Lima
Janet, Terrence, Cosette – Lima
Janet & Casey, Green Room – Lima
Carla & Brock – Lima
Danny, Mark, John, Dwayne, Carla, Brock – Lima
Mayor Eric Garcetti, Terrence – Lausanne

 

Brock, Peter, Matt, Nico, George – Lausanne

Bid Book Rodeo
Paula, Nico, Carlos, Terrence – The Old Place, Agoura Hills CA
President Bach, Mayor Garcetti, Casey – UCLA, FEB 2016
The one and only – Allyson – LA
Jeff, Terrence & Lys. Roy Choi tacos.
Casey, Terrence, Mayor Garcetti – Aarhus
Danny, Matt, Terrence – Disney Studios
Early LA2024 staff meeting – Mayor Garcetti, Casey
Casey rehearsing in LA 2024 office
The author. The end.

LA Confidential – Act 2

Terrence Burns ©2017

LA 2028 Team, Lima Peru 11SEP17

From the beginning, I was impressed/astounded with how relatively small the LA 2024 bid team was. I’d worked in a lot of countries where bid committees were grossly over-staffed with functionaries doing very little, and this made LA unusual in its economy.

That concept of economy began with how the Bid was funded. Casey was adamant that the bid be funded by Angelinos, people who believed in the Games by putting their money where their hearts were. And they did. LA 2024, unlike any other Bid on which I’d ever worked, was entirely funded by private donations. No public money. No government support. That in itself was an astounding story. The Bid got great people to work there, too.

The legal team of Brian Nelson, Tanja Olano, and Anna Schmitz was outstanding in ability and a very fun group of people to hang around with. Rather than show the team hard at work in their offices, I thought it would be better to show them in every attorney’s natural habitat, a bowling alley (sorry, Brian, I don’t know where you were when this was taken!)

Mark Smith, Anna Schmitz, Tanja Olano, Terrence Burns – LA 2024 2016 Holiday party

I’d also be remiss if I did not acknowledge two of the nicest (smartest) members of the team, Brence Culp, our Executive Director of Sustainability and Legacy and Peter Tomozawa, our Vice President and Executive Director for Partnerships and Board Relations.

Peter Tomozawa, Terrence Burns, Malibu

These two fine and funny (as in humorous) people were always positive and upbeat, in addition to delivering one hundred percent for the Bid.

Peter Tomozawa, Brence Culp. Post Lima exhaustion.

Marla Messing joined the Bid as our Vice President and Executive Director of Sport Leader Relations, working mainly with the International Federations of sport to help make sure our venues were exactly what they needed.

Olympic Family communications and International Relations was handled by the JTA agency, based in the UK. I’d worked with Jon Tibbs, the owner, on Beijing 2008 and Sochi 2014. His solid team of Sevi Hubert and Alex Corp (Alex was based in the LA office and quickly adapted to the SoCal lifestyle) did exceptional work as always. Jon’s team worked with Jeff Millman and his group (Luca Servodio, Leigh Flores, and Barb Solish) on Comms, and with Jared Schott and Andrew Chatzky on IR.

Anna Schmitz, Terrence Burns, Jon Tibbs, Danny Koblin and Andrew Chatzky – 2016 Holiday Party. And somehow, after hours of bowling with friends, I lost this fine green sweater

The Games that Almost Weren’t

The team was ready for its first big turn as a Bid Committee on the grand Olympic stage at the Rio Games. Once again, the logistical team did a tremendous job – it always amazes me, every time. The LA 2024 team was spread around town in several hotels, and our main office was in the USA House on Ipanema Beach. Our role there was to listen, learn, meet and greet. And drink Caipirinhas. Which we did. Rio was fun. Here are some gratuitous photos in no particular order.

Rio 2016 Opening Ceremony (back row from left) Bill Hanway, Matt Rohmer, Joslyn Treece, Brian Nelson, Danny Koblin, Brence Culp, Terrence Burns, John Harper, (second row) Hilary Ash, Rich ?, Jeff Millman, Dwayne Jones, Manav Kumar, Maira Claudia Duque, (kneeling in front) Jared Schott
Terrence Burns, Michael Johnson
The LA 2024 team lining up for the bus to Opening Ceremony
John Harper, Opening Ceremony Rio 2016
Joslyn, Hilary, and Matt – Rio Opening Ceremony
Brian Nelson, Jared Schott (standing in a hole), Manav Kumar and Brence Culp – Rio 2016 Opening Ceremony
Peter Ueberroth gives our LA2024 bid the thumbs up
Bart Conner, Nadi Comaneci, Michael Johnson, Janet Evans
The Team leaving Rio 2016 Opening Ceremony

Over the next months, we tested and refined our messaging in anticipation of our first big presentation to the Olympic Family at the ANOC November meetings in Doha. Unlike previous bids I’d worked on (except for Vancouver 2010) I had a bid team fluent in English (although I am sure some of my UK friends would debate this) and all were accustomed to public speaking. (If you only knew how many previous bid presentation speeches in English were learned  – and delivered – phonetically.)

When you have only twenty minutes to communicate complicated technical information and package it in a set of emotional, moving brand messages, it can be quite difficult. It is even more so when English is the second, third or sometimes fourth language of many of the speakers. With LA, I didn’t have this challenge. We had great speakers, and boy did they deliver – every time.

Janet, Mayor Garcetti, Allyson, Angela, Casey – Doha 2016

I’ve worked on Olympic bids with minimal IOC membership, and some with zero IOC membership, such as Almaty 2022. The United States had three IOC members during the LA 2028 campaign – Anita De Frantz, Larry Probst (also Chairman of the USOC) and Angela Ruggerio.

This was a blessing but also a challenge when it came to presentations, where only a limited number of speakers were allowed.

In some cultures, this would have been a nightmare, but our three members were fair and objective as to who got to speak and when. They were gracious with each other and did an excellent job of helping our presentation team connect with their IOC member colleagues.

I was particularly impressed with Larry Probst’s performances later on in the Bid. If you know Larry, I am sure you’ll agree that to say “he doesn’t crave the limelight”, and “he isn’t super enthusiastic about public speaking”, are both understatements. However, like everyone in the bid, he was in it to win it. Larry and Scott Blackmun (CEO of the USOC) worked tirelessly over the past seven or so years to reset the relationship between the USOC and the IOC, so this bid was incredibly important to him personally.

Because of his personality and stature, I was comfortable giving Larry some of the “pointy” messaging, gently challenging his IOC colleagues. I showed him his drafts, and he was fully engaged. He had some very sobering lines to deliver – and a few were starkly honest in their appraisal of previous US bid efforts. Humility wins every time if it’s honest. Larry performed like a champ, and many people remarked positively on his statesmanlike delivery.

The most significant concern I had for our first presentation was how the US presidential election and the political climate in the US would affect us. In a word, it was distracting. I knew our competitors would seize upon it for political advantage (I would), and they did. So, we had to think of a clever way of reminding everyone in the audience that the United States was still the same country of ideals and values that we’d always aspired to be.

That’s when an incredible, pleasant surprise fell into our laps named Allyson Felix. Janet suggested Allyson. Of course, I knew who Allyson Felix was (the most decorated female track and field Olympian of all time, and LA native), who didn’t? But could she speak and carry the message I already had forming in my head?

We arranged a meeting with her and her brother/manager, Wes. I am rarely star struck anymore, but with Allyson, I just couldn’t help it. She is an icon – not only an Olympian but a legend, like Janet. And you know what? She is one of the kindest, most humble people I’ve ever met. I realized, immediately, what a treasure I’d been given to work with.

Olympic legend, Allyson Felix, Terrence Burns

The first meeting went something like this:

Me: Allyson, we want you to speak with our LA 2024 team, but I don’t want you to talk about all the medals you’ve won, or even about being an Olympian…

Allyson: OK that sounds interesting, what do you want me to talk about?

Me: I want you to talk about what it is like being a black woman in America, and of your love for and faith in our country because of its diversity; because this election is being used against us, and I believe you are the only person who can help refute that…are you comfortable doing that?

Allyson: (not batting an eye) I would love to do that.

And she did. Brilliantly. She was electric on stage, no one could take their eyes off of her or their attention away from what she was about to say.

Here’s a bit of what she said:

I’m not here today to speak only about my sport…my accomplishments…or even, LA 2024.

I’m here to talk about America.

 I want to tell you about the America that I love, and, the America that needs

the Olympic Games to help make our nation better…now, more than ever.

America is diverse.

 We are a nation of people whose descendants came from all over the world for a better life.

But…we’re also a nation with individuals like myself…descendants of people who came to America…not of their own free will…but against it.

 We just finished our presidential election, and some of you may question America’s commitment to its founding principles.

 I have one message for you:

 Don’t doubt us.

 America’s diversity is our greatest strength.

 Diversity is not easy. 

 Diversity is a leap of faith…that embraces all faiths.

Allyson practicing in Doha, 2016

And with those words, the election and doubts about the US evaporated from the LA 2024 discussion. We knew we had to hit it head on, as we did (and will show) for every challenging issue in the 2024/2028 campaign. We felt great about it in the room that day.

The positive feedback was instantaneous as well. The Olympic media called it a “masterstroke” to diffuse the issue. It was one of those moments in every bid that serves as a tipping point, meaning, if it works, there is a clear line of sight to victory. After Allyson’s speech and the entire team’s performance, our vision improved to 20/20, we could see the path forward.

Bid Promotion and Communications: A Brave New World

The 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games campaign was the first to fully embrace social media as a tool promoting the Bids. The IOC rules limit promotion of each Bid in its national territory for a period of time, and only then are the Bids are allowed to promote themselves internationally after a specific date: in our case, it was 3 February 2017.

You can immediately see the porous nature of this distinction in today’s media environment. In the old world, geographical limitation meant we could not purchase media or ad space outside our home territories until a specific date. In the new world, as long as our Facebook Live posts, Tweets, and Instagram posts, etc. originated in our home countries, we could do whatever we wanted whenever we wanted. A post by the Bid or a Tweet by Casey went around the world, instantly, and both LA and Paris were very aggressive with social media.

Knowing the efficacy of this new tool, we worked closely with LA 2024’s social media agency, Laundry Service, led by Cosette Chaput, to create a novel concept to kick off the international campaign in early 2017.

Cosette Chaput, Terrence Burns

We called it “What’s NOT in the Bid Book, with Casey Wasserman.” The concept was simple and its objective two-fold.

First, we wanted to raise Casey’s profile within the Olympic Movement because was a newcomer. He was less known than the executives of the Paris bid. Second, we wanted to do something creative and fun instead of endless Tweets and posts about our Games Concept and venues (we did that too, by the way). So, we created a concept showing fun facts about LA that were NOT in the bid book, hosted by Casey. Cosette’s team created some fun ideas that were easy, quick and affordable to do, nice to get all three.

Casey is a natural in front of the camera. He has good instincts, a quick wit and frankly, the camera loves him. Cosette and her team at Laundry Service came up with an outline of content for the series, and we filmed the teaser on 19 January in Casey’s office. You can find it here:

What’s Not in the Bid Book Teaser

Then we shot and rolled out the remaining pieces over the next few months. They can be viewed here:

Episode 1 – Hollywood Behind the Scenes, starring ET

Episode 2 – Shoe Shopping with Allyson Felix

Episode 3 – LA Fashion & the Olympics

Episode 4 – Casey & Mayor Garcetti reminisce about the Bid

The results exceeded all our expectations, with over 5 million views.

2024 or 2028?

A lot has been written as to who first said what to whom about the possibility of awarding 2024 and 2028. I’ll leave it to others to debate, but we began hearing about it in earnest in late 2016.

In hindsight, it was a brilliant idea – and whoever thought of the idea should take pride in its creativity and its stabilizing impact on the Movement for years to come.

Rome 2024 dropped out of the race in October, right after the Rio Games. Of all our competitors, I must say the Italians were the nicest and friendliest of the lot. They were always gracious, and they hosted all the bids at Casa Roma during the Rio Games for an incredible meal. I hope Rome bids again (I enjoyed working for them on their equally fated 2020 bid), it could be a spectacular Host City.

Terrence Burns, Simone Perillo (Rome 2024) exchanging bid pins at Casa Roma, Rio Games

As the 2016 holiday season began, it appeared that discussions about 24/28 were taking place in Lausanne.

In December 2016, President Bach finally hinted at the possibility of a dual award by stating that the current bid process produced “too many losers,” and he “wouldn’t rule out” a dual award of 2024 and 2028, but the IOC had to “study the issue.” It seemed apparent to everyone that he was intrigued, but the idea needed to clear more than a few hurdles within the IOC membership to make it happen.

Then, Budapest 2024 dropped out in February. It wasn’t a surprise given the ongoing struggle the Bid was having with public opinion, but they were a great team full of young, enthusiastic people and we were sorry to see them go. They’ll be back.

On 17 March, the IOC set up a “Working Group” consisting of the IOC’s four Vice Presidents. The group consisted of Australia’s John Coates, Turkey’s Uğur Erdener, China’s Yu Zaiqing and Spain’s Juan Antonio Samaranch. Its mandate was to review and discuss reforms to the bid process, including the possibility of a dual award for 2024 and 2028.

It was clear that if this discussion was taking place, we needed a strategic plan; so, we set one in motion with specific messaging tied to specific timing. We designed a frank approach to the reality of the situation.  Our goal was to be part of the discussion and the solution, but on our own terms as much as possible.

I vividly recall our discussion around the IOC’s new Working Group at our Monday morning staff meeting in late March of 2017, in the LA 2024 “Downtown Conference Room.”

Paris continued to state that 2024 was “now or never.” We thought that sounded a lot like an ultimatum. What we needed was a gracious, yet calculated way of addressing it. Lots of comments were flying back and forth. Finally, I said, “…let’s give the IOC some air cover on this …let’s say that LA 2024 that supports the IOC’s strategy of considering 2024/2028 – this paints us as good partners…”. Everyone agreed. Several of us began scribbling out the copy for a Casey Tweet, which went out the next day, 23 March.

The Tweet generated a lot of chatter in the Movement as we were the first Bid to address the possibility in a positive light. I think that many of us in the Bid felt (or guessed) where the 24/28 debate might eventually be going, but a campaign is a campaign, and nothing is a done deal until it is a done deal. Our goal was to position against Paris’ perceived inflexibility and portray LA 2024 as an excellent partner to the Movement.

Parallel to the global discussion, we made another strategic decision to craft an
Open Letter” from Casey to reinforce our position and to support the IOC. It was titled “An Opportunity, Not an Ultimatum” and can be found here:

https://medium.com/@LA_2024/an-opportunity-not-an-ultimatum-e7845082850e

The penultimate paragraph:

The 2024/2028 strategy under consideration by the IOC is precisely the type of new thinking that the Movement needs. But, it only works if the IOC chooses the right 2024 city – the city that brings new ideas and new solutions to the Games – not more of the same. That city is LA. So instead of “now or never”, we think the IOC should focus on “new or more of the same.” That’s not an ultimatum, that’s an opportunity. But as in life, opportunities only exist for brief windows of time.

In the midst of all this, we were told by the IOC that we and Paris would be making presentations at SportAccord in April. SportAccord is an annual sports and business symposium held in different locations around the world. One of the biggest draws every other year is a presentation by the Olympic Bid Cities.

The 2017 SportAccord was held in the city of Aarhus, Denmark, one of Manav Kumar’s (our key contact in Mayor Garcetti’s office) favorite cities.  SportAccord had its ups and downs with the IOC in recent years, and initially, the 2024 Bids were not slated to present. However, the International Federations requested a presentation from the 2024 Bid Cities because the NOCs received one in Doha at ANOC. So, the IOC allowed us a short presentation. We believed that the timing was perfect to deliver, in person, our thoughts on the 24/28 issue.

Casey, Angela, Mayor Garcetti, Janet, Gene – SportAccord 2017
Manav Kumar, Aarhus

The issue of 2024/2028 was finally out in the open and on everyone’s minds, so in typical fashion, we decided to address it head-on. Our speaker lineup for the short presentation was Mayor Garcetti, Gene Sykes, IOC Member Angela Ruggerio, and Casey.

Normally, Mayor Garcetti closed our presentations because he was the most emotional speaker we had. But for this presentation, I chose Casey to close because, in his role as Chair of the Bid, I felt that it was important that he deliver the final comments on the 2024/2028 issue.

LA 2024 workroom, Aarhus. John Harper, Nicolas Perez-Enciso, Dragomir Cioroslan (USOC), Jared Schott, Chris Sullivan (USOC), Cosette Chaput, Bill Hanway

Because of the “presentation order draw” at the beginning of the campaign, LA always went first in each presentation, and Paris last. If you can’t go last in a larger group, first is always best because you can pre-empt what the other Bids are going to say. And when it gets down to just two, going first is almost better than going last – especially if you have a great story. We used that to significant effect in Aarhus.

So, after the Mayor, Gene and Angela spoke, Casey stepped up to the podium. Instead of his usual Southern California smile, he looked serious, even earnest. I could tell he was eager to say what he was about to say. So, instead of the usual Olympic bid platitudes, Casey’s opening line was “My topic for today is our Games Concept, but first, let’s talk about the elephant in the room – the 24/28 Games. We believe that the 24/28 discussion makes a lot of sense and it’s fortunate that the IOC has two great cities to consider, each capable of hosting magnificent Games in 2024.”

There was an audible and collective gasp in the room, many frozen fake smiles evaporated, and everyone wondered what in the hell Casey Wasserman was going to say next.

He continued on, laying out the case why LA 2024 was “something new, not more of the same.” He said that the 2024 Games had to be transformative for the Movement because “the next seven years will help define the next one hundred years.”

And finally, to address the negative, just under the surface, ever-present, and thinly veiled  Anti-American sentiment we always experienced from some, he said, “Our bid isn’t about money, or ego, or American pride or even losing or winning – it’s about ensuring that the Olympic dream is achievable for everyone, as far into the future as possible…”.  Juan Samaranch turned around, found me in the audience, and gave me a thumb’s up at that point. I knew we’d hit the right tone and message.

Casey delivered a great speech that day, and it got the room and the media buzzing. Our design partners at “MoveWild”, from Madrid, Spain, once again dominated the visual backdrop. The people in the room and the Olympic media complemented our clear and crisp messaging, beautiful design, and our speakers’ performances. I met the MoveWild team on the Madrid 2020 Bid, and worked with them again on Almaty 2022, and with LA2028. They are superb people and world-class professionals.

Carlos Gomez-Mira, Nicolas Perez-Enciso, Paula Checa Bermejo – MoveWild – Malibu
Rossana Giacomelli Soto (MoveWild), Charlie, Mark, Terrence, Brock, Peter Specht (MoveWild)

The IOC Evaluation Commission Comes to Town

While we were busy prepping and implementing the messaging and the presentations, a huge team in LA was busy for months prepping for the IOC’s Evaluation Commission’s visit. Budapest’s departure from the race changed the dates long planned for, and our team did an excellent job of adjusting and rearranging an extraordinarily complex set of logistics at the last minute.

John Harper and Hillary led the planning and management of an army of LA 2024 staff and external consultants. I would also like to point out the ongoing heroic efforts of Dwayne Jones, our logistical guru and the best party planner in LA. Dwayne and I had many shared moments, laughs and memories as two Southern Boys in the big city of LA. He’s one of the best people I know.

Dwayne Jones

From the outset, we knew that we could not compete with the cultural bias (a well-earned one, by the way) that Paris enjoyed in the campaign. Paris is simply, in my humble opinion, the most beautiful major city in the world. Architecture, museums, culture, gastronomy…I could go on, but you get the idea, Paris has it.

We knew we could not compete on any of those attributes. So, we fashioned LA’s Olympic vision on a very different set of attributes such as forward-looking, future-focused, dynamic, optimistic, modern, and yes, cool.

A phrase that we used in the brand model working sessions, “New Games for a New Era”, became a workhorse phrase for the bid alongside the tagline, “Follow the Sun.”  Our goal was to show the IOC EC that LA 2024 was ideally suited to deliver a New Games for a New Era – and we did.

From the beginning, one of the most difficult challenges for the technical team, led by the uber-competent duo of Doug Arnot and Bill Hanway, was to sift through the plethora of existing, world-class venues spread all around LA for our Games Concept. We had an embarrassment of riches from which to choose for our venue plan.

I’d written a line for Madrid 2020 that said: “we’re not changing our city to fit the Games, rather, we are adapting our Games Concept to fit our city.” Madrid 2020 was Olympic Agenda before Olympic Agenda 2020 was cool. But that’s another story.

LA was in the same position – it had everything it needed to host the Games, including the Achilles Heel of most Olympic bids – LA had an existing, functioning, state of the art Olympic and Paralympic Village on the campus of UCLA. The entire LA 2024 team worked on the visit, serving as guides and speakers and whatever needed to be done. It was an incredible effort by an incredible team.

Patricia Feau, Tanja Olano, Cosette Chaput – Staples Center

After three days of touring the LA 2024 Games Concept, the EC Commission Chair Patrick Baumann was impressed. He said, “Los Angeles is already a great Olympic city, but after these three days we now realize that was an understatement.”

It goes from spectacular venues to impressive venues to mind-blowing venues.

And the kicker (unlike previous bids on drawing boards) – “It was very positive because we were able to see them.

IOC Evaluation Commission

When the IOC’s final report came out, we were happy to discover that our brand and messaging plan not only worked but worked splendidly.

From the IOC report:

Members of the Evaluation Commission have used the terms “forward-looking,” “innovative,” “vibrant,” and “cool” to describe the Los Angeles candidature.

When discussing the main differentiators of both candidatures, the two words the Evaluation Commission often attributed to LA2024 were “dynamic” and “futuristic.” Los Angeles is prepared to put its story-telling skills, creative energy and cutting-edge technologies to good use in delivering what it proposes will be a transformative Olympic Games that will thrill and inspire the world, just as some Hollywood masterpieces have done over the generations.

And finally, all the hard technical work of the team paid off as well:

As for Los Angeles’ Games concept, it’s all about inclusion. LA 2024 has proposed four self-contained Sports Parks that would extend the Games’ celebration across the entire city.

Los Angeles would have very little to do regarding venue construction, as existing and temporary structures make up almost the entire venue proposal.

I’d worked on more than a few Evaluation Commission visits around the world and over many years, and I would emphatically state that the IOC’s revised EC procedure is light years ahead of the old format. Chairman Patrick Baumann and his team led by Christophe Dubi and Jacqueline Barrett were superb – they were there to listen – and to help. It was refreshing, and I think signals a new,  enlightened approach by the IOC, which will serve it well in choosing future Host Cities.

But at some point, the cities do get to show off their creativity. LA 2024 hit a new high (for me at least) with its dinner with the EC – and in Sochi, we had dinner with Putin! Casey’s idea was to have the dinner at his home in Beverly Hills with some of his friends from the LA media, business, and entertainment community.

With guests ranging from Sly Stallone to Kobe Bryant, the evening was set for something special. Then Casey told us about his idea of hosting it outside in his backyard, within a 360-degree, ten-foot-high video screen – and no ceiling – just the LA sky overhead (yes it was a clear night). Really. I was fortunate to be invited by Casey to attend. It was a fantastic evening, and one I told Casey and the Mayor that I would never forget. And I won’t.

The dining room set up…
Casey speaking to kick off dinner…
Jacquline Barrett of the IOC with “Oscar”
Kobe Bryant and some old dude with a huge head.

After the EC’s visit to Paris, it was apparent to everyone involved that a) the IOC had two excellent bids, and b) it was trying very hard to make them appear “equal” in every way. Again, it was obvious where this was headed, or attempting to head, but it was also clear that some members of the IOC and the Olympic Family still weren’t sold on the idea of a dual award. We believed that at least one of us in the race should hold up our hand and indicate a willingness to play ball, and remind the Movement that even though LA was flexible, it wouldn’t and couldn’t last forever.

So, we decided to reiterate our position on the 24/28 matter and our belief in partnership instead of ultimatums. On 7 June, Casey submitted another Open Letter to the Movement.

The Open Letter can be found here: https://medium.com/@LA_2024/an-opportunity-to-serve-83983ffa6112

Some perceived it as bold, and some as confusing. Our goal was two-fold: take control of the 24/28 narrative as it pertained to LA (before someone else did), and generate some goodwill in Lausanne.

From the beginning, we’d decided that the LA 2024 brand voice would be respectful, but also honest and straightforward, minimizing the Olympic bid clichés one hears so frequently. All of our speeches and promotional efforts reflected this tone, and this Open Letter was no different.  The key paragraph was this one:

To be blunt, LA 2024 has never been only about LA or 2024. Even when the issue of a dual award for the 2024 and 2028 Games was initially raised, we didn’t say it’s “LA first, ” or it’s “now or never” for LA: that sounds like an ultimatum. We could have used that strategy, but we didn’t because we thought it was presumptuous to tell the IOC what to do and how to think. We’re better partners than that. It has always been our contention that LA 2024 had to make as much sense for the Olympic Movement as it did for the people of LA. And we’ve stuck to that premise.

And it closed with this:

We don’t believe in ultimatums — we believe in partnership; that’s why we are willing to look beyond ourselves and ask the question “how can LA best serve the long-term needs of the Olympic and Paralympic Games?

Almost immediately the Olympic media pounced, some using the term “capitulation”. Even people on our team were taken aback by some comments whirling around the Olympic world. I admit, the next morning even I had second thoughts, and I helped write the damn thing. But, we endured it because we believed in the strategy behind the words, and frankly, our stated desire to “look beyond ourselves” was perceived quite favorably in Lausanne. In hindsight, it was the perfect, strategic foil at the right time of the campaign.

End of Part 2; stay tuned for LA Confidential – Part 3. The Final Strech to Lima.

LA Confidential – Act 1

Terrence Burns ©2017

LA 2028 Team, Lima Peru 11SEP17

For those of you wondering, the title of this post is “borrowed” from the 1997 movie, L.A. Confidential, starring Russell Crowe, Danny DeVito, and Kim Basinger.  It’s the first time I’ve ever worked movie stars’ names into an Olympic blog post, but, it is LA, so… By the way, the movie’s plot and its title have nothing to do with the LA 2028 bid, this post or the Olympic Games. I just thought it was an apt title.

Note: I use both LA 2024 and LA 2028 in this article, but not interchangeably; I do so in an attempt to capture the nature of the bid at specific timeframes in the two-year long, unprecedented campaign.

This story is an Olympic story, which means, it is a children’s story; a story for children aged from 5 to 105. If we are lucky we all retain that special spark of childhood, the belief in what really matters in life – dreams, and hope. That is the essence of the Olympic brand. This is LA 2028’s version. Oh, and I should add, this is also a bit of a love story between this humble writer and a city and her people.

My own LA 2028 story began very late on a cold, snowy, February evening in Almaty, Kazakhstan, at the offices of the Almaty 2022 bid committee.

Adore Creative film crew, Ritz Carlton, Almaty Kazakhstan

Boston was just selected by the USOC in January to compete with Paris, Rome, Hamburg, and Budapest for the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games.I got a call from the brand-new Boston 2024 CEO, John Fish.

John said, “we want you on the team – tell me what it will take, and I’ll send you a contract.” He talked very fast in a strong Boston accent, but the mobile reception was terrible; frankly, it was hard to understand him. But I got the gist.

I told John I appreciated the call but wasn’t quite ready to commit to any 2024 city and was in discussions with another city. Then I went back to the evening, which was in the middle of the IOC Evaluation Commission’s visit to Almaty – a tense week. But eventually, due to some issues surrounding our firm’s other business interests, we said “yes” to Boston 2024. So, after many years working around the world, Boston was to be my first American Olympic bid, and the opportunity to work in the United States for the first time since 1996.

We began work on 1 April 2015. Then things got weird. To make a short story even shorter, Boston 2024 didn’t work out so well. By June it was obvious the bid was dying, and by July, it was dead.

One of our firm’s principals called and asked me if I’d considered LA 2024. I said, “no, I haven’t really, and given what just transpired with Boston I don’t really think I want to….”

To make another short story even shorter, he and I had a call with the LA 2024 Bid Chairman, Casey Wasserman. I’d never met Casey but knew of him by reputation in our industry. I knew he had a growing and thriving business and was well connected in sports, entertainment and political circles. And, I knew he was young and on the move – up.

All of these things piqued my interest because frankly, he seemed exactly what a US bid needed in a leader.

I had about ten questions on the call. Casey answered them. He asked me some questions, I answered them. For a phone call between two strangers about something so important, it went pretty well. We agreed to a deal.

One week later I flew to LA to meet Casey in person. He was as advertised – charming, smart as a whip, and surprisingly funny as hell. I thought we hit it off quite well personally, which is always a plus with a new client.

In bidding, chemistry is incredibly important because there is nothing, and I mean nothing, more emotionally intense than the client/consultant relationship in an Olympic bid. For me, it is always a romance, and each time I do it leave a piece of my heart when it’s over. Yes, I’m aware of how dramatic that sounds, but ask anyone who has ever worked with me on a bid; I’m all in.

You cannot deliver a winning bid without total, 100% emotional commitment. You have to trust each other implicitly and have each other’s backs. It’s a high wire act and its uncomfortable for anyone not used to it – there are no do-overs or second chances. Get it right, you win. Get it almost right (or wrong, they’re the same thing in a bid) and you lose.

TB and Casey Wasserman, Rio Games.

The day was a stunning Southern California day; the kind of day that you read about or see in a movie but aren’t quite sure it’s real: incredibly blue skies, low humidity, swaying palm trees and a temperature of about 78F/25C. Casey said, “It’s like this all the time.” I was smitten.

The truth is it probably had a lot to do with the view from his office on Wilshire Boulevard, overlooking Westwood and the campus of UCLA, with mountains in the background and the Pacific Ocean to the west. For two years I had a one-on-one weekly meeting in Casey’s office, and every time, I stopped for a moment and looked out that window and enjoyed the view. And whenever I mentioned the beauty of the place, Casey always shared my enthusiasm; he really loved his city.

I also met Casey’s Chief of Staff, Patricia Feau, who, over the two years became a dear friend, a confidant and key part of the bid. Her French husband, David, is the Head Chef at one of Beverly Hills most chic restaurants, Wally’s. It’s an amazing place to eat and a must if you ever visit.

Patricia Feau, Wasserman Chief of Staff, Rio Games

That day I also met with Danny Koblin and John Harper, two key Wasserman employees who were leaders in LA’s domestic USOC bid that lost (inexplicably) to Boston. The meeting was hastily thrown together in a Wasserman meeting room. I hadn’t prepared anything specifically, so we spoke about the recent Almaty 2022 presentation and watched it online as an example of the type of work we’d be doing for the bid. Danny went on to become the Chief Bid Officer of LA 2024, and John the COO. Our team would work extensively and very closely with these two for the next two years

John Harper, Terrence Burns, Danny Koblin (Matt Rohmer, far right)

 

It’s often delicate parachuting into a team that already exists and has been working together on a project for a time, and even more delicate when you are billed as the “external expert.”

It’d been a long time since I worked with Americans and I admit, it took a while for us all to get used to each other. I thought we made a good team. And in the end, it’s results that matter, and together we achieved something wonderful for LA; for that, I am proud and thankful.

Another key player on the team from the domestic bid was Jeff Millman, LA 2024’s Chief Communications Officer. Jeff’s background was political campaigns, and he worked tirelessly to help ensure the local LA community remained engaged and supportive of the bid – no small feat in the new era of “No Olympics.”

Jeff Millman, LA 2028 Chief Communications Officer

Also, Jeff is also a fashion pioneer, spearheading the marriage of the New Balance classic 574 with dress pants and Lacoste polos. He graciously treated George Hirthler and me to a lovely evening of tacos at his house and, on my many long weekends alone in LA, would invariably send me a text inviting me for a bite or to hang out (much appreciated Jeff, thank you).

During this trip, I was also treated to a private meeting with LA’s mayor, Eric Garcetti at his office in the iconic LA City Hall. I recall describing him as an “Olympic bid mayor out of central casting.”

 

By the end of the campaign, I realized just how insufficient a description that was. Mayor Garcetti was simply amazing – in everything he did for us.

Mayor Eric Garcetti

I’ve been around the Olympic Movement a long time. I’ve met with and worked with heads of state, politicians of every stripe, royalty, athletes, and celebrities. I’d never met a civil servant like Eric Garcetti. I used to say, “the brightest and best no longer go into public service in America.”  Eric Garcetti proved me wrong; very wrong.

He was approachable, easy to work with, very generous with his time for everyone and a consummate professional at public speaking. He helped our speakers and me with guidance many times during the campaign. He and Casey cut a path of personality and charm (and ultimately friendship and trust) through the Olympic Movement like two hot knives through butter.

Casey Wasserman, Mayor Eric Garcetti

Allow me to stop here for a moment because I believe that this is important: The Olympic Movement and the USOC owe the city of LA and its team a tremendous amount of gratitude for what they did.

They not only picked up the utterly horrific mess left by the Boston 2024 debacle, but they also agreed to jump into a race where they were a year behind in planning, and clearly not a favorite by any stretch of the imagination. And they did it with grace and confidence, setting a new standard for an American bid committee.

That’s the LA I came to know and love. So, bravo and thank you Mayor Garcetti and Casey for saying “yes, not only are we still interested, but we also want to do what is best for the Olympic Movement.” And they meant it. It was bold. Bold wins, always.

I was on my annual off-road motorcycle trip, this time in Utah, and I missed the 1 September 2015 bid launch that featured Olympic legend Janet Evans as the MC. Of course, I knew who Janet was – I was at Opening Ceremony in Atlanta in 1996, when she passed the Olympic Flame to Muhammed Ali to light Atlanta’s caldron, opening those Games. And of course, I remembered Janet dominating her sport during her competition years. Janet Evans is Big Time. But I’d never met her or heard her speak professionally.

When I got home, I watched a video of the launch, and I was impressed by her confident style and easy grace. Casey and I had a chat, and I told him that every bid needed an “Athlete Commission” and that he should hire Janet to run it (selfishly, I could already see her as a principal speaker in future presentations – which she was).

Internally, Brock Park on our team and I worked on a job description, a mission statement and set of principles for the Athlete Commission. We shared it with Janet, and she agreed to come onboard. One of the best hires ever. Janet may be from the single athlete, lonely sport of long-distance swimming, but she’s one of the best team players I’ve ever worked with; and most importantly in the Olympic world, she isn’t a Diva, she’s a genuinely good person.

Olympic legend, Janet Evans, Terrence Burns – Lima, Peru

The Times, They Are a’ Changing

It was a very different race from the start. I’d just endured a Winter Games race where only two cities were left standing in the end, Beijing and Almaty, neither of which generated much real enthusiasm. The Movement was reeling from the blinding-speed cultural, societal and economic changes taking place around the world. Suddenly, it seemed as if no one wanted the Games.

I won’t go into the myriad of reasons why, but I will say that much of the world seemed ambivalent at best, and cynical at worst to hosting a Games. This is a problem many years in the making and an issue that everyone in the Olympic Family – myself included – played a role in creating.

This race was different because even though there were five great cities vying for 2024, Olympic insiders could already sense a few of the bid’s fragility. We were all holding our collective breath over the two words that have become the new challenge of the Olympic Movement’s efforts to find Candidate Cities: public referendum.  In fact, Hamburg 2024 and its great team of my friends was the first 2024 Candidate City to fall victim on 20 November 2015.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Right about this time, Gene Sykes, Goldman banker and “technology deal-whisperer” was named as CEO of the bid. Gene brought an abundance of experience, managerial skills and a wealth of unique relationships that would help serve the bid. How unique? Well, it was the first time I ever proofed a new hire press release with quotes from both Tim Cook of Apple and Bob Iger of the Walt Disney Company – that’s how unique. Gene became a trusted colleague, and I always found him to be thoughtful, earnest, contemplative and a quick study in a new and very different world – the Olympic world.

Terrence Burns, Gene Sykes – Rio Games

One of my team’s first assignments for every bid is to help create its vision, its story, its brand, and the answer to the question, “why LA?”. It begins with research. Our team consisted of me, Mark Smith, Brock Park and my longtime friend, mentor, former business partner and Olympic aficionado, George Hirthler.

Mark Smith, Terrence Burns, Brock Park, George Hirthler.

We conducted about 75 one-on-one interviews within the Olympic Family, asking about LA as a potential Host City. It’s mainly a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis. We also conducted a comparative SWOT for the competing cities, then we mapped out the various findings in a matrix that began to compare and contrast the functional and emotional differences.

After two months, we had an initial call with Danny, and Matt Rohmer, the new Marketing Director for the bid to give them a preview of where we’d landed on the brand model and the tagline.

Terrence Burns, Matt Rohmer

Basically, people around the world perceived LA (and California – the two were interlinked in foreigner’s minds, so we purposefully used them interchangeably at times) in finite terms.  The most used words or phrases were: sunny, cool (meaning hip and trendy), creative, technology-savvy, Hollywood, innovative, traffic-clogged, smog-clogged, and full of shallow and superficial people.

So, we presented the good, the bad and the ugly, and then our recommended positioning, along with a tagline (or “slogan” in IOC speak) for the LA 2024 brand. This is difficult to do on a phone call, and the response was somewhat reserved on the brand work, and relative silence on the tagline; silence in a creative presentation is not a good thing, by the way.

We listened to their comments, worked on it a bit more and scheduled a meeting in LA to present to the entire team. Now, it wasn’t lost on me that I, a 57-year old man from the South was going to the most creative city on earth and tell everyone in the room – all younger than me – what their cool, new Olympic brand was all about. It was a bit intimidating. But I was confident that our work would resonate with the target audience – the Olympic Family – and I give Casey tremendous credit for allowing us to run with it.

Early LA 2024 Bid Committee

Below is a one-page overview of the LA 2024 brand’s positioning, values, attributes and initial messaging (thanks to Matt (!) for suggesting this one-page format to summarize a 40-page deck). Happily, this work served us and the bid well over the course of the next two years. It was the bedrock of our competitive positioning, and it echoed in every speech, press release and external communication of the bid. It clearly differentiated LA 2024 from the pack.

LA 2024 Brand Model Overview

The Tagline

Taglines are always tricky and extraordinarily subjective. We’ve had some winners over the years (PyeongChang’ 2018’s “New Horizons”), some good ones that didn’t win (Almaty 2022’s “Keeping it Real”) and some forgettable ones such as Moscow 2012’s “Imagine it Now.” We had a beautiful one (and a beautiful brand) for Rome 2020, which never saw the light of day (they dropped out of the race at the last moment) called “A Time for History.”

So much of the research around LA 2024 was focused on the sun, sunshine, optimism, etc., that it was hard to ignore it. Even though some of the LA team felt it was kitsch and too predictable, it was the critical attribute that LA owned vis-à-vis the competitors and it was essential to the target audience. It was important not to take it literally, and this proved a hard thing at first for some of our team members.

Here is how we described the sun and its importance to the LA 2024 brand:

The Sun is a metaphor for progress, the future, for hope, for health, for optimism and ultimately for happiness.

 The pioneers followed the Sun all across the North American Continent, finally to California – a state that has become synonymous with progress, innovation, imagination – and opportunity, the promise of tomorrow.

We knew that none of this sentiment resonated with our competitor cities of Paris, Hamburg, Rome, and Budapest. We believed that we could own it and make a great story and brand out of it.

In our quest to come up with an LA 2024 tagline, we scoured many sources for quotations or statements involving the word sun. Late one afternoon on the magical beach in Carmel, California, I stumbled upon this quote:

“Following the light of the sun, we left behind the Old World….”

The quote is by Christopher Columbus. Currently, not the most politically correct historical figure, yet his sentiment expressed precisely what I was trying to communicate – leaving the past behind to embrace the future. To get to the future, you have to get to tomorrow and to get to tomorrow you have to follow the sun. So, there it was.  “Follow the Sun.”

I saw it both as an invitation and a challenge. Some of our LA team thought it was too passive. But, I could see the arc our brand message (and the campaign) would take over a two-year campaign, and I felt that “Follow the Sun” would eventually be seen for what it really was – a challenge to embrace the future. It worked. Our brand message was so on point that ultimately a few of our competitors started using some of our brand’s keywords and phrases – optimism, progress, and innovation – in their communications and speeches. We found that rewarding.

Interestingly, some Paris 2024 team members chose to portray our tagline literally. They launched a sardonic social media effort using hashtags such as #celebratethesun, and other statements such as “the sun belongs to everyone”.  We didn’t engage them or respond with anything similar. We purposefully took the high road throughout the campaign, but we secretly celebrated every time someone on the Paris team used or referenced our tagline.

So, we had a brand model and a cool tagline. What’s next? A bid logo. And if you think selecting a tagline is a subjective circus, try coordinating collective agreement for a new logo.

LA 2024 hired one of LA’s hottest ad agencies, 72 and Sunny, to produce our films.

I remember giving the 72 team their first Olympic brand and LA 2024 Brand Model briefings at their very cool offices in Playa Vista (Howard Hughes’ old headquarters). Again, a bit intimidating with many of the youngest, most creative minds in LA in the room, but they were attentive and excited about the Olympics. They were very supportive of our brand model and direction for the LA 2024 brand. 72 would remain great partners and produce fantastic work throughout the campaign.

LA2024 then chose Bruce Mau Design to design our logo; we briefed them as well. After a few weeks with frustrating results, we asked one of 72 and Sunny’s founders, Robert Nakata, to take a swing at a logo because, before advertising, his first love was design.

After a relatively short amount of time, Robert came up with the LA 2024 Angel (for the City of Angels). As with all creative presentations, acceptance was not universal on our team. But with a few alterations, it evolved into a logo that everyone bought into, and over time, everyone came to love. What I loved about the logo is that it was a human form, an athlete, and a female; quite distinct from any previous bid logo I’ve ever seen. By the way, I loved the distinctive Paris 2024 logo, too.

During those first few months another crucial, all-encompassing process took place, the entire team worked feverishly on the first of three Candidature Files Submissions (bid books). These are very detailed, complex documents (in English and French) whose content is prescribed by the IOC to help them in their technical assessment of each bid.

Our bid book project was led by the competent Hilary Ash. In the “small world” department, Hilary’s father, Kevin, also worked on the Atlanta Games in 1996. Her first Olympic memory was at Atlanta’s Closing Ceremony as a five-year-old. Hilary remained a key player throughout the bid.

Hillary Ash, Rio 2016 Opening Ceremony

At a meeting in Lausanne in 2017, I joked that if LA did get the 2028 Games, by that time everyone would be working for her and another young lady named Cosette Chaput. Cosette was the lead consultant from LA’s exceptional partner agency handling social media, Laundry Service (more about Cosette and Laundry Service latter). Both of these young women were overachievers for the bid, and their contribution to LA’s victory was immense.

The first bid book was due on 17 February 2016, and it covered “Vision, Games Concept and Strategy.” The second volume was due on 2 October 2017, and it covered “Governance, Legal and Venue Funding.” The final volume was due on 3 February 2017 covering “Games Delivery, Experience and Venue Legacy.”

First Bid Book Assembly – John Harper, Brock Park, Matt Rohmer, Hillary Ash

For each submission, we arranged for a member of our team to fly to Lausanne and hand deliver them to IOC headquarters to ensure they were there on time and intact. One of the most significant achievements of the IOC’s new bid process was that we did not have to print these books any longer.

In the old process, bid cities spent hundreds of thousands of dollars (I should know, I loaned Sochi 2014 the deposit money to get their bid books printed when the bid was short on cash) producing coffee-table quality books that hardly anyone read. The new electronic format made much more sense and saved a ton of money.

In February 2016, we had the unprecedented opportunity to test our brand and messaging on a very unique focus group of one: IOC president Thomas Bach. President Bach and his entourage came to visit LA on their way to Silicon Valley.

During his visit to our office, I was asked to share the LA 2024 Brand presentation with him. It was the first time I’d ever shown an IOC member an Olympic bid’s brand work, let alone the IOC president.

Terrence Burns, IOC President Thomas Bach, LA February 2016

I’d know President Bach for many years, but it had been a very long time since I presented anything to him; almost two decades to be exact – back when I worked for the IOC’s external marketing agency, Meridian Management. So, in our very crowded conference room, we began. It took about thirty minutes. I finished with the tagline. Silence. Then he said, “I’m not sure if I am allowed to do this but…”  And then he started clapping his hands. Then his team started clapping their hands, albeit a bit nervously, then we all joined in.

He congratulated the team on the work and then he said, “you used two words there that really stuck out to me…optimism and progress…we at the IOC don’t speak enough about these…”  In my business, that counted as a good day, and one I will remember for a long time. I was glad that he appreciated it, but I was even more happy and proud that the LA 2024 team had begun to embrace it as their own brand – not mine or my team’s.

Olympic legend Carl Lewis, IOC President Thomas Bach, LA February 2016
Bart Conner, Nadia Comaneci, Thomas Bach – UCLA, February 2016

Stay tuned for LA Confidential, Part 2

What’s Old is New, Again.

Terrence Burns ©2017

It’s been a while; I’ve been busy with LA 2024 and our quest to host the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games. As the debate for the 2024/2028 Games heats up with two great potential Host Cities vying for the honor, the IOC continue to review and consider a new approach to bidding on and hosting the Games.  I thought I’d share my thoughts and recommendations that I sent to the IOC back in 2014, for their then-new Olympic Agenda 2020 process. In light of recent events, it makes for interesting reading.

May 2014

Thank you for the opportunity to present my thoughts pertaining to the Agenda 2020 Committee on Bidding for the Olympic Games.

Background

I began my Olympic “life” as a sponsor, managing Delta Air Lines’ sponsorship program for the Atlanta Games.  After the 1996 Games, I joined Meridian Management SA, the IOC’s then new marketing agency where I was responsible for managing the marketing relationships with the TOP Partners and helping to institute a first-ever brand management program.

After leaving Meridian in 2000, I’ve had the opportunity to work on many Olympic bids as an advisor, among them Beijing, Vancouver, Sochi, PeyongChang and the Russia 2018 FIFA World Cup.  I also worked on many bids that were not successful such as Moscow 2012, Doha 2016, Rome/Baku/Madrid 2020 (that may be a record, by the way, for one campaign) and Lviv 2022. One often learns more by losing than by winning.

For bids, I have traditionally worked on the image, marketing, communications, and branding areas, which included the presentations to the Olympic Family and global sports community.  Sometimes, although rarely, we work on the technical plans. For a variety of reasons both personal and professional, I have never engaged in lobbying IOC members on behalf of bid clients.

Rightly or wrongly, because of my background and experience, I tend to view virtually everything that happens in the Olympic Movement through the lens of “brand management”.  Much has been said and written about the foundation of the Olympic Movement, which to me is the athlete.

There are, however many other important moving parts such as IOC Members, National Federations, International Federations and of course National Olympic Committees.  I believe that there is one item often missing from the list: Bid Cities.  Without bid cities, there would be no Host Cities.  Thus, in my mind, Bid Cities also have a place at the heart of the Olympic brand; they are the seedlings of the Olympic forest.

Situation

Olympic bid cities are the “canaries in the coal mine” of the Olympic Movement.  The number and “quality” of bid cities is a direct indicator of the future health of the Games. I say future because there seems to be a cycle (or two) delay in how the future bid cycle reacts to the current economic situation due to the seven-year timeframe between bidding and becoming an OCOG.

As economic pressure increases on cities, regions, and nations (as it has since 2008/2009), coupled with a seemingly never-ending escalation in size, scope, demands, amenities and costs of Games editions, we are finally seeing negative responses to the perceived cost/benefit analysis for hosting the Olympic Games.

 Looking ahead

Bid Cities as Brand Ambassadors

First and foremost I firmly believe that Bid Cities competing to host the Olympic Games present a tremendous yet undervalued brand opportunity for the Movement. Bid City campaigns take place virtually every month of every year regardless of the timing of an Olympic cycle. The opportunity to “generate good news” (and what could be better than a city and its citizens yearning to host the Olympic Games?) year-round is self-evident.

Imagine the 2012 race, when the Movement had New York, Paris, London, Moscow and Madrid pursuing the Games. What a communications opportunity for the Olympic brand!

Unfortunately, the IOC’s highly constrictive rules on bid city promotion preclude virtually any brand benefit to the Movement from a bid cycle campaign.

I am not advocating letting the bid cities do as they please, what I am advocating is that the IOC use them and the race as branding and communications opportunities.  A healthy field of bid city candidates with the proper promotion and communications activities helps to create positive news about the Olympic Games – and will encourage future bids.

Recommendations:

-The IOC team should craft a global communications and promotional framework that includes all bid cities’ activities aligned with the existing Olympic calendar

-The IOC brand and communications team should meet with bidding cities (potential and current) early in the process and explain the program their roles in it and what is trying to be achieved

-The Olympic Movement should look for creative opportunities for bid cities to promote themselves within a set of standard parameters that generates parity for all cities, yet creates the greatest opportunity for news and content for the Movement

-The IOC needs to take the lead on a true, unbiased economic study of past Games but it cannot only be economic; it should attempt to track and measure progress across a variety of measurements including, quality of life, health, brand image, education, etc. Too often opponents of bidding have an array of negative reports and studies purporting to illustrate the “waste” of hosting an Olympic Games.  Some of the data is, unfortunately, accurate; however, the Movement needs to engage in this debate honestly and with data of its own.

Planning for Future Host Cities

Per my recent post, I believe that the IOC has entered a new era of brand stewardship and the bid process can no longer just be a “game of chance” around parameters that can be manipulated.

I am not advocating a systemic process whereby the IOC chooses a city ahead of time.  I believe the Movement still needs the “thrill and excitement” of a real bid city campaign, but the cities should be chosen and prepared ahead of time, prior to bidding.

I believe the IOC should review and identify where and when they believe the Games should be held over the next four bid cycles based upon the needs of the IOC, the IFs and NOCs and global sport. This review should include:

  1.  Where in the world the Games can help develop sport (such as emerging economies)
  2.  Where do the Games have to be every ten years or so to keep the brand relevant in the first-world economies, and
  3. What is the true risk basis for each city and its bid (sophisticated financial and political risk analysis tools exist in the private sector that the IOC should use instead of asking bid city to provide what is most likely, inflated or exaggerated data)

The IOC should then make a list of the global regions where they desire to see the Games hosted.  In these regions, they should then make a list of cities/nations “most likely and most desirable for the Olympic brand to succeed”, and implement a long-term plan to assist those cities and nations to be prepared to bid when the time comes.

Recommendations:

-This means fully engaging the public and private sectors early on in the process

-This means that teams of IOC experts, IOC members, and former OCOG executives should visit the potential bid cities with advice, encouragement and above all, facts about bidding for and hosting the Games

-This means laying the groundwork by helping create a rational, long-term venue development (use of existing facilities, more temporary facilities, only new facilities as a last resort) plan tied to their city’s long-term municipal or regional planning.

-This means setting criteria that must be met in order to bid for a Games, e.g., 70+% of the needed venues must exist or be in process with fully transparent funding models in place; the city/country must have hosted a certain amount of world championships/cups to illustrate operational competence ability; the potential host nation and NOC have a desirable record as it pertains to anti-doping; the public and private funding discussions and responsibilities should be fully agreed to in writing ahead of bidding; etc.

-This means asking the bid cities to address the “Fundamental Principles of Olympism” per the Olympic Charter in their bid applications, point by point

-This means implementing a communications plan foundation around the potential bid to illustrate the “what’s in it for me” rationale to the general population and local, regional and federal governments.

-This means engaging the National Olympic Committees to be part of this process and every National Federation

-This means utilizing former Host Cities and their leadership as case studies and, never allowing a member of the Movement to denigrate a former Host City (as is often done with Atlanta, for example). That is unprofessional and self-defeating – former Host Cities are also still part of the “franchise” and should be treated accordingly. It is also insulting to the thousands of Volunteers who gave the Movement months and months of their personal time for the Games, and to the citizens who supported the bid, the Games and welcomed the world with open arms.

-This means making International Federations a working partner in the process. To be honest, and I’ve been there, in the past many IFs placed inordinate demands and expectations on Bid Cities. And Bid Cities being Bid Cities have no choice but to try to comply in order to attempt to obtain votes. This process is upside down and it leads to ever-increasing and often illogical venue commitments. I understand that many IFs want gleaming new, state-of-the-art venues at every Games, but that is just not sustainable and in the end, it is not good for sport because it inevitably leads to White Elephants, which scares away future potential Bid Cities.

 Whose Brand is it?

The IOC has to take control of the image and reputation of the Olympic brand. During and after the Slake Lake City Bid scandal, I worked on the IOC crisis team that helped made the decision that the OCOG or Games brand should be the “hero” brand in all Olympic communications activities because, essentially, the brand image of the IOC itself was in serious trouble.  This made sense at the time, but no longer.  The IOC’s image and reputation cannot be left up to others to define (Germans and Norwegians claim they like the Winter Games – just not the IOC!); the IOC must define its own image and reputation going forward.

The Games are too complex, too expensive and too subject to geopolitical machinations for the brand to be left in the hands of amateurs (Organizing Committees, and I use the world amateurs in the most respectful manner possible) every two years. The IOC cannot leave “success” up to a group of well-intentioned people who have never done it before – and only in seven short years. And, I mean “success” in a context that is far beyond the 17-day hosting of the Games.

If we want healthier bid cities in the future, we need to ensure that once chosen, Organizing Committees are great sources of news about progress and are a brand investment in the Movement. A thriving and healthy Organizing Committee preparing for the Games creates a positive media environment and helps stimulate interest in hosting the Games instead of fear of hosting the Games.

Is “Great Sport” Enough to define Success?

I think that the IOC can no longer afford to say “sport was great, so the Games were a success”. Because of costs and investment, it has become more complex than that in the eyes of those outside the Olympic Movement – the Olympic Movement is no longer the sole target market for appraisal of success or failure. Many more variables are now at play.

Look at Sochi and Rio, for examples. For Sochi, the venues were perfect and sport on the field of play was successful by virtually any measure. But in the end, what did the negative reports leading up to Sochi cost the Olympic brand? Well for starters, we know negative media reports around Sochi (again, real or imagined) have cost us two, possibly three European first-world capitals as bid cities in the 2022 race.

I would state unequivocally that this is NOT Russia or Sochi’s fault.  They did what they said they were going to do. They built a city for the Winter Games. It is the IOC’s responsibility or should have been, to “manage the world’s expectations” about the Sochi Games.  It would have been, and still is, easy to say “No single Games is a perfect example for future Games. The expenditures made by the Russian government to host the Sochi 2014 Winter Games made sense for Russia, and we thank them for a tremendous Winter Games.  But we do not, by any means, expect similar investments by future bid cities going forward.”

We cannot hide behind the shield of sports success as the sole arbiter of an Olympic Games’ effectiveness. The Games have to make sense for local communities.

Recommendations:

National brand building as the sole source of hosting an Olympic Games “isn’t good enough”. Potential bid cities must illustrate the value of their bids beyond their own borders – not just with words, but also with deeds years ahead of time from their bids.

-Rewarding desired behavior. As an example, look at the 2018 Winter Games race.  When appraising the technical plans of Munich and PyeongChang, there was no “bonus weighting” applied to Munich’s creative use of existing venues or its world-class environmental plans.  From the IOC’s members’ perspectives (the people who vote) it appeared as if the Munich and PyeongChang technical plans were both of equal value, when in fact, Munich’s was much more visionary and one could argue better for the Movement at the time.  The IOC selection criteria must be more objective with quantitative metrics and it should be willing to give “credit” (enhanced value) to cities that put forth responsible, prudent plans instead of being impressed (or blinded) by expensive new building projects.

In closing, allow me to summarize:

  1. Bid Cities can and should be key pieces of the IOC’s overall global communications strategy – let them compete more openly, yet under control of a strategic IOC communications plan designed to achieve objectives
  2. The IOC should alter the Bid City selection process by 1) looking 20 years into the future to determine where and when the Movement would like to see the Games hosted, and 2) identifying potential cities far in advance and helping them “get prepared” to bid
  3. The IOC should consider more stringent criteria (such as existing venues, experience, etc.) that must be met before allowing a city to bid
  4. Allow the “bid city race” to continue (it generates media interest and excitement – or should), knowing that the Movement has prepared cities whose plans are predicated on the IOC and the Movement needs, rather than left to chance, or worse.
  5. The IOC needs to implement a communications program (not just PR) to take control of its own image and reputation. This can be done in concert with OCOG brands but the IOC has to control its own reputation destiny
  6. If the IOC doesn’t want bids that are based on theory and fiction, then stop rewarding them. Given credit and praise (openly) to cities who provide thoughtful, affordable, responsible plans to host the Games.
  7. The IOC needs to be more involved with the operational success of the OCOG. True functional matter experts in Games operations and planning, Sport, Sectary, Branding and marketing communications, Sponsorship, etc. should work alongside the OCOG
  8. As to member visits, I think that is up the IOC Members themselves to debate and discuss. But I do think it is unusual (and perhaps ill-advised) to ask one hundred-plus people to make a multi-billion dollar decision without ever having seen the city.

Thank you again for this remarkable opportunity to share some of my views with you and your colleagues in Lausanne; please know that all my observations and suggestions are my own, and they reflect my complete respect for the Olympic ideals.  Every day I wake up and am so thankful that I have the chance to be a (small) part of the Olympic Movement.  Thank you for all that you do to make that happen.

Sincerely,

Terrence Burns

So, that’s was my point of view three years ago. It remains so, today. Time will tell if these ideas and concepts have any impact on the 2024/2028 decision, or beyond. I hope so. If so, you read it here first.  Thanks as always.