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LA comfortable with Olympic bid in ways Boston wasn’t

The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images

Los Angeles already had a lot going for it as a potential host of the 2024 Summer Games — a healthy Olympics legacy and ready-made stadiums. But on Wednesday US Olympic officials revealed an advantage that would seem inconceivable in Boston: 81 percent public support for a bid to host the Games.

It is hard to imagine 81 percent of Bostonians agreeing on anything, beyond maybe free lobster. But the US Olympic Committee said that was the result of its survey of Olympics support conducted in Los Angeles in early August, shortly after Boston’s bid collapsed because of poll numbers that couldn’t climb out of the low 40s.

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And while Boston’s Olympics opponents seemed from the outset to dominate the social media debate, a Twitter account of the group No Los Angeles Olympics, first heard from July 27, had just 82 followers as of 8 p.m. Wednesday.

USOC leaders said Wednesday that they are in negotiations with LA officials, and are optimistic they will soon finalize an agreement for Los Angeles to represent the United States in the international contest for the 2024 Summer Games.

“Los Angeles has been there [as a two-time Olympic host] and understands the tremendous upside,” USOC chief executive Scott Blackmun said in a teleconference with reporters after a USOC meeting in Denver. “They’re also very aware that with any big project there is risk. They’ve taken a hard look at that and the calculus suggests to them the benefits far outweigh the risk.”

After Los Angeles hosted well-regarded Games in 1932 and 1984, the Olympics are baked into its civic culture, specialists say, which is why it seems far more comfortable as an Olympic bid city, a title Boston wore uneasily.

“LA hasn’t had any bad experiences doing this,” said Ed Hula, editor of Around the Rings, which covers the Olympic movement. “They haven’t had costs overruns or taxpayer bailouts.”

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Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti told the Los Angeles Times on Monday that he would provide the needed government guarantees for a competitive bid, including a promise to use taxpayer money to deliver the Games if the local organizing committee could not cover the expense.

Garcetti’s declaration came in blunt contrast to the months of hand-wringing in Boston over whether or not Mayor Martin J. Walsh would — or should — give a similar financial guarantee.

Blackmun said the guarantee is “a nonissue in the case of Los Angeles.”

Olympic specialist Jules Boykoff, a professor at Pacific University in Oregon, said that a positive Olympic legacy is the key difference between Boston and Los Angeles. “People in the LA area may well remember the much-touted fiscal surplus from the 1984 Games, and that might help swell public support,” Boykoff said, though he questions whether the city could repeat the financial success of the past.

The 1984 Games were staged under voter-approved restrictions on the use of public money, forcing organizers led by Peter Ueberroth to stage a low-cost, privately funded Olympics that is still the model for US bids. The Games made more than $200 million in profit. Running successful Games brings confidence, said Amy Bass, a professor of history at The College of New Rochelle.

“I don’t think Boston feared the Games — and I say that as a Red Sox-loving Massachusetts native — I think they rightly feared the finances,” she said by e-mail. “While Boston was right to be cautious, I think New England’s nature made it almost too cautious.

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“Hollywood, however, is always confident it knows how to throw a big party and remain able to clean up the next day.”

She said Los Angeles has the additional advantage of many potential Olympic venues already in place, which reduces costs.

Another difference between the Boston and Los Angeles bids, so far, is the intensity of public scrutiny, Boykoff said.

“In Boston, there was a groundswell of activists, civic-minded people, academics, and elected officials who raised a lot of challenging questions that ultimately derailed the bid,” he said. “We have not yet seen such skepticism in Los Angeles.”

By the time Boston was named the bid city, local opponents were already a loud and well-established voice in the public debate, commenting in news stories about the bid and largely controlling the conversation on social media.

In Los Angeles, the nascent opposition movement apparently began tweeting under the Twitter account @No_LAOlympics on July 27, the day the Boston bid collapsed.

“We are LA citizens who are concerned with the fiscal state of LA city & county,” the group said in a Twitter exchange with The Boston Globe. Still formulating its strategy, the group said it is “against any plan which commits taxpayer dollars to what is effectively a private endeavor.” It opposes risking public money to guarantee the Games.

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David Simon, president of the nonprofit Los Angeles Sports Council, said the city’s Olympic history goes deeper than just hosting two Games: the city has bid for more Olympics than any other city.

That is because of one of the legacies of the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics: The Southern California Committee for the Olympic Games, an organization founded in 1939 to offer Los Angeles as an alternative to Tokyo as host city for the 1940 Olympics, according to Simon and the committee’s Web page. Japan was at war with China at the time, putting its ability to host in doubt. Ultimately, the outbreak of World War II forced the cancellation of the 1940 Olympics, and the next planned Games in 1944.

But the Southern California Committee lived on as a permanent organization, helping to make bidding for the Olympics a quadrennial tradition for Los Angeles.

Starting in 1948, Los Angeles bid for 10 Olympics in a row. After so many tries, it finally won its second Olympics, when the city was the only viable bidder in the late 1970s after three successive Summer Games were marred by violence or financial disaster.

“Those games [in 1984] were by any measure a great success,” said Simon, who was vice president of the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee for the ’84 Games.

Los Angeles bid for 2012, though the USOC named New York the US city. The Big Apple lost to London. Los Angeles tried again for 2016, losing domestically to Chicago, which in turn lost to Rio de Janeiro.

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The USOC did not bid for the 2020 Olympics, which will be in Tokyo.

Los Angeles last year was considered the domestic front-runner for the 2024 Olympics, in a field of four finalists that also included Boston, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C.

The USOC surprised many specialists in January by choosing Boston.

As the Boston bid struggled throughout the spring, Los Angeles loomed in the background as a potential replacement, despite USOC denials that it was eyeing any backups.

The International Olympic Committee will choose the 2024 host in 2017. Rome, the 1960 host; Paris, which hosted in 1900 and 1924; Hamburg; and Budapest are expected to compete. Toronto, fresh off staging the Pan Am Games this summer, may also bid.


Mark Arsenault can be reached at marsenault@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @bostonglobemark