Red Sox executive Larry Lucchino in talks with Boston 2024
Boston Red Sox president and chief executive Larry Lucchino is engaged in discussions with people connected to Boston’s Olympic effort to potentially take a senior role with the bid committee, Boston 2024, according to two people with knowledge of the discussions, in a move that would signal a dramatic reboot for an Olympic campaign that got off to a difficult start.
Lucchino already has spoken directly with Mayor Martin J. Walsh and Boston 2024 Chairman John Fish, according to the two people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the discussions. Any possible move, though, would still need to be vetted with prominent backers of the effort to bring the 2024 Summer Olympics to Boston, as well as with the United States Olympic Committee.
He confirmed in a brief Boston Globe interview Thursday evening that he has had “a conversation or two” with key players connected to the local Olympic bid about potentially joining the effort in a “meaningful role.”
Lucchino, 69, said he is “a big supporter of the Olympic movement” but said it is too soon to say what, if anything, will come of the talks, or what position he could ultimately accept.
Should he take a Boston 2024 post, his ongoing role with the Red Sox, which he joined in 2002 and with which he remains under contract, is unclear.
The news comes as Boston 2024 is looking for a spring rebound after a difficult winter during which support for the bid dropped amid public relations misfires, pushback from city residents on venue plans, stinging media commentary, and record snows that disrupted the MBTA and seemed to undermine public confidence that Boston could handle an international sports event. A March poll suggested just 36 percent of Greater Boston voters backed the bid.
Bringing Lucchino on board could indicate a substantial leap from the recent incremental change at Boston 2024 and an acknowledgment that the bid leaders believe they need to do something bold.
The bid committee, through a spokesman, said Thursday night it would not comment on what the Globe is reporting about Lucchino, but added, “We want to make it clear we have a lot of confidence in the current leadership of Boston 2024.”
Before joining the Red Sox — whose principal owner, John Henry, also owns the Globe — Lucchino worked for the Washington Redskins, Baltimore Orioles, and San Diego Padres.
Along with four decades of sports experience, he would bring to the Olympic bid a deep knowledge of Boston, a record of successfully building sports facilities, and a history of getting the public on board with big ideas.
He also has a reputation as aggressive, unafraid to knock heads with his opposition, and exceedingly demanding of those who work for him.
Lucchino, a native of Pittsburgh, is credited as the driving force behind Camden Yards in Baltimore, a new ballpark with modern amenities styled to feel like a ballpark of yore.
In San Diego, he led a public campaign for Petco Park, a new home for the Padres, which voters approved overwhelmingly in 1998.
Under his tenure, the Red Sox have revamped Fenway Park, adding seats and expanding its capacity.
A primary challenge for Boston 2024 is developing plans for a temporary Olympic stadium, currently proposed for Widett Circle near the city tow lot, up against Interstate 93.
Lucchino would also bring to the bid the intangible of a big name on the Boston sports scene, well-known — if not always well-loved — by the passionate partisans of local sports talk radio. His presence could lend the bid new gravitas and provide a public face with a proven legacy at the top levels of professional sports.
Despite early stumbles, there is a sense within Boston 2024 and its major supporters that there is still plenty of runway left to get the bid off the ground, and recent polling suggests support has ticked up.
As the weather warmed in the past month, Boston 2024 sought to turn down the temperature of the public debate on the bid. Fish, once a ubiquitous public presence who became a target of Olympic opponents, has cut back appearances and worked to stay out of the media. The bid committee yielded to calls for a public referendum, saying it would support a statewide vote in 2016. A vote so late in the process is unnerving for the USOC, but by guaranteeing the bid will be on the ballot, the committee denied Olympic opponents an attack point.
The committee has also sought to broaden the size and scope of surrogates supporting the bid, releasing this week the names of a new 30-member board of directors, which boasts Boston Celtics legends Larry Bird and Jo Jo White, Red Sox slugger David Ortiz, and Olympic figure skater Michelle Kwan. The board also includes local leaders in business, labor, and education, as well as seven members of the USOC.
Leaders of the bid committee say the board will meet twice a year to approve major initiatives and lend expertise throughout the year.
The USOC chose Boston in January to represent the United States in a worldwide competition for the Games, over bids by San Francisco; Washington, D.C.; and Los Angeles.
The International Olympic Committee will meet in Peru in 2017 to choose the 2024 host.
After he has competed against the Yankees for more than a decade, Lucchino’s next opponents could be Rome, Hamburg, and Paris.