Los Angeles Just 'Won' the 2028 Summer Olympics. That Is SUCH Bad News.

Cities, countries, and taxpayers hosting the Olympics typically stumble away much poorer and worse off.


LA Olympic Bid Poster

So Los Angeles will be hosting the Summer Olympics for a third time, in 2028 (the city previously hosted Olympics in 1932 and 1984). The city had originally tried to win hosting rights for the 2024 Games, which went to Paris instead. The International Olympic Committee (IOC), which has had trouble finding cities willing and able to host its quadrennial summer boondoggles, went ahead and gave LA the nod 11 years from now.

My advice for residents in the city I once called home and where Reason Foundation, the nonprofit that publishes this website, is to start packing your bags.

Really, just GTFO. 2028 may seem like a long time away, but it will sneak up on you and the last place anyone wants to be is in a city that has pledged billions—over $5 billion, in LA's case—to stage a boondoggle that will almost certainly suck all sorts of tax dollars and private resources out of the real economy and flush them down a unisex toilet in the basement of the Edifice Complex.

As Garrett Quinn explained for Reason in 2015, it's virtually impossible for a city to break even when hosting a Summer Games. The expected revenue is around $6 billion and the gate is split between the host city and the IOC (which takes a whopping 70 percent of the TV revenues alone!).

So before the first athlete gets bounced for failing a drug test, LA is already $2 billion in the red, assuming the bidders' cost estimate is correct, which it almost certainly isn't. The Beijing Games cost $40 billion and the London version cost $20 billion. Russia ponied up $50 billion for the poorly provisioned Sochi Games and Brazil has consistently lied about how much its Rio Games cost (officials say $13 billion while outside analysts put it closer to $20 billion). Montreal hosted the Games back in 1976, arguably at the peak of Cold War interest in the Olympics, and spent 30 years paying off its debt. But at least Bruce Jenner defeated communism (in the figure of Nikolai Avilov) in the decathlon back then. Americans will doubtless be more interested in the Games when they are held in LA than they are elsewhere, but history is rapidly leaving the Olympics behind for all sorts of reasons, including all the awful mascots.

Despite lip service to using existing venues and getting corporate donors, don't expect the city fathers of LA, which has a massive inferiority complex that often drives it to go bigger than necessary, to tighten their belts on this shining moment. Especially since they will no doubt be arguing that new kayak runs and velodromes will become cash-flow-positive venues for decades after the Olympic torch has left the area to burn a hole in the budget of some other sad-sack city. Take a tour of the venues of the 2004 Athens Games, why don't you? They were the most expensive iteration up until that point in time but the facilities literally started falling apart after the final race had been run.

It's true that by most accounts, LA's 1984 Games didn't swamp the city in debt. In fact, there's reason to believe LA made a profit hosting the event. But that was decades ago and so far no other host city has come close to achieving that feat. "The best way for a city to win on the Olympics is to decline to bid," wrote Reason's Ed Krayewski in July, when it became clear that Paris and LA had finished first and second in bids for the 2024 Games (surprise: they were the only two cities to bid!). That sounds about right, and it's true of the economics of most stadiums for football, baseball, and hockey/basketball too. The Olympics, like hosting an NFL franchise and gifting them a stadium built with tax dollars, is a luxury good, an act of conspicuous consumption that is morally offensive in an age of unfunded pension liabilities, rotten school outcomes, and crumbling roads and bridges.

Watch "Sports Stadiums Are Bad Public Investments. So Why Are Cities Still Paying for Them?"