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Was is really the third anniversary of the award of the Games of the XXXIV Olympiad to Los Angeles on 13 September? Has the record-breaking 11-years-in-advance timetable shrunk to “just” eight years?
How has the coronavirus pandemic impacted the LA28 organizers?
Some of the answers and a look forward came during a 7 September interview with Kathy Carter, the Chief Revenue Officer for the LA28 organizing committee and the head of the newly-formed U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Properties (USOPP), the joint marketing arm of LA28 and the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC).
She spoke with Brian Berger on the Sports Business Radio Roadshow podcast and explained the current situation, the impact of the 1 September launch of the unique LA28 brand “emblems” program and how she sees the road to the third Los Angeles Games unfolding.
First and foremost, she’s optimistic.
“We have really an incredible opportunity ahead of us for a couple of different reasons. You know, we often talk a lot about the fact that it’s not as if we have better ideas than anybody else. We just have the ability and the time to actually implement those ideas for two reasons. …
“[A]t the time we were awarded the Games, we were 11 years out of hosting, and … we’re able to enter into the Games knowing that we don’t have to build a single permanent venue. Yes, we’ll have some temporary venues, but that pales in comparison to what most Olympic organizing committees have to build as they look to host the Games.
“So with that in our sights, it really is incumbent on us now to say, OK, how do we actually evolve the experience, evolve the opportunity for us to have an impact on our community, to have an impact on the Games, and, for L.A., with such a rich tradition of hosting the Olympic Games, this will be the first time that we actually host the Paralympic Games. So what we believe will be able to do for equality, diversity, inclusion and opportunity, we just think it’s an unlimited opportunity that’s ahead of us.”
Again and again, the word “experience” came up, as in:
● “[R]ight now we really have the opportunity to think strategically before we really scale our organization, and think about what’s important, which is why launching our brand, building our culture, figuring our ways that we can actually develop and inculcate the overall experience of the Olympic and Paralympic Movements to Los Angeles are some of the key things we’re really focused on.”
● “[Gold medalist Janet Evans, the Chief Athlete Officer for LA28] did a lot of work as we were in the bid phase, to really understand what are some of the things that would make it a little easier for an athlete to participate in the Olympic or the Paralympic Games. And you know there’s a whole swath of things that are easy for us to accomplish. Simple things like helping have their families actually watch them compete. You know it’s been hard for them to potentially get tickets and so we actually have looked at, and will have, every athlete will have availability for tickets for their family for the races or the competitions that they are in.
“Outside of that, it’s providing them things that make their experience much easier like, more towels. That sounds really simple, and silly, but they are important when you are an athlete. But then there’s bigger ideas like how do we actually create programming in the Olympic Village and the Paralympic Village that actually provides opportunity for them to really think about their future. So we have a whole host of ideas and ways that we want to integrate into the Olympic Village and the Paralympic Village which will be unique and different, let alone the fact that the ease of living on the UCLA campus, the access to training facilities even [within] the confines of the Olympic Village, it’s all right there. And the weather will be great. And we’ll find ways that if they lose their key to their room, they can still get in. So there’s lots of things that we’re already starting to think about that sound really simple and silly, but we think will be very, very cool.”
She hinted that this is where technology can play a role; perhaps a retinal scan to ensure the right people are admitted into the Olympic Village (and the wrong people are kept out)?
● “[A bubble-type environment is] something we’ve obviously started to take a look at. But we’ll start with the simple things. And then from there we’ll layer on. And so I think that’s the piece that we’re most excited about is to start to dig in because the athletes are the core of everything that we’re doing. This is their moment. You know, 14,000 [team members] will be in Los Angeles in 2028 and how do we make sure that the experience is perfect for each and every one of them? That’s a key part of what we want to do and that’s not just in L.A., that’s actually leading into the Games and ultimately after the Games as well.”
The question of legacy is also being considered, but in a far different – and more forward-looking way – than brick-and-mortar stadiums:
“What we like to talk a lot about is how do we start to build the human legacy that will be a part of the journey for LA28. And ultimately one of the things that we will leave, which is an industry full of people that will have gotten the experience as a result of the 2028 Games. …
“But there is a lot ahead of us. We are very, very excited and we like to say if the only thing that we deliver are the Games in 2028, we will have missed our window of opportunity to change the Games and to change our country for the better.”
On the sales side, Carter explained that the pandemic has changed the way they are doing business, but while it hasn’t stopped it, it hasn’t helped:
“[W]hile it has been different and it’s been difficult, I think for us, it’s forced us to get a lot more focused on what we have to do and what’s right ahead of us and a lot for us overall like everybody else, on Zoom calls and calls all day long, we haven’t really slowed down. In fact, I would say we have sped up a little bit. So I think we’ll come out of this in a pretty decent position, although time will tell. But I would say we’re pretty fortunate that our Games are in 2028 right now.”
Just as with the athletes, making the Games easier to navigate on the ground in 2028 is clearly a developing theme. Carter emphasized this once again when speaking of working with the sponsors and suppliers that her team is recruiting (to fill a $2.52 billion line item in the $6.88 billion budget):
“[W]e’ve really looked at it and said ‘we’ve got to create the ease of execution for our partners’ and a way that they can continue to innovate, and by making it so they don’t have to acquire more rights, but rather try to put as much into the overall program as we can and make it easy for them to start to activate, that allows them far greater ability to innovate which we think is where we’ll [eventually] see groundbreaking ideas over the next eight years and around the Olympic and Paralympic Movement.”
She also noted that the unprecedented combined sales effort of LA28, the USOPC and NBCUniversal will also offer sponsors more opportunity:
“[I]t allows them the ability to have a much longer plan for how they want to gain and get a return-on-investment with us, so that they can focus on activating the partnership as opposed to acquiring more and more rights as they get through the process.”
Asked about whether Tokyo 2020 will actually take in 2021, she was clear:
“Paris will definitely stay at 2024 and L.A. will definitely stay at 2028 although – just to put a pin in the first part of the statement – Tokyo will happen. And that is not in my mind in question. I think we’ve seen an incredible evolution in how sports are being played, whether it’s in a bubble or controlled environment, whether it is with a variety of ways that they are delivering events in Europe, but all in all, I think that Tokyo will happen.
“Will it look exactly the way it was going to look in 2020, as it was originally contemplated, I think that still remains to be seen, but it will happen. So I think starting there, Tokyo will happen in 2021, Paris will happen in 2024 and L.A. will happen in 2028.”
And what will Los Angeles be like? Carter noted that the emblem launch represents a fresh look at how a diverse community can find a common cause:
“[B]y actually creating the first dynamic and digital emblem that has existed in the Olympic and Paralympic Movement, we actually used the brand as a way to tell the story of Los Angeles, of which there’s thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of ways to articulate what anyone’s L.A. is. …
“I think it speaks to both Los Angeles and the Olympic and Paralympic Movements which are really all about diversity, inclusion and opportunity. We are really excited about what this starting point for us really means.”