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opinion | Dan Payne

Principles for reselling the Olympics

reuters/boston globe photo; heather hopp-bruce/photo illustration/REUTERS

Boston Olympics organizers, you are losing the public. A new WBUR poll shows that support for bringing the Olympic Games to Boston in 2024 has plunged to just 36 percent — down from 52 percent in January and 44 percent in February. You say the process is not a sprint but a marathon. Actually, it’s a political campaign, and that’s how you should proceed. Some principles need to be observed. To wit:

■  Better win that referendum. In committing to a statewide referendum, you must figure you can overwhelm your opponents with TV spots, targeted direct mail, and a sophisticated voter ID operation. This is how pro-business ballot questions win. This one’s a high-stakes gamble. If you lose, book flights to Paris and Hamburg for the 2024 Games, and if you need a hotel room try that grubby guy in the Trivago commercials.

■  Define your base. Barney Frank once called a politician’s base “the people who are with you even when they shouldn’t be.” Who makes up the 2024 committee’s base? A cabal of highly paid political consultants, business, and construction executives, college presidents, and on-leave government staffers with ties to Mayor Marty Walsh, former Governor Deval Patrick, and Governor Charlie Baker. They need to find those who want the Games so badly they will stand up and say so, in large numbers. Amateur athletes, restaurants, bars, hotels, Duck Boats, marathon runners?

■  Listen to Romney. Former Governor Mitt Romney was asked by Katie Couric last week about Boston’s tepid reception to hosting the Games. The man who ran the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics said: “It’s not something where you say, ‘This will be great for our city and we’re going to make money’ . . . It’s not a big moneymaker for the host city. There’s a lot of risk and disruption.” Thank him for the good advice, although you ignored it in your full-page newspaper ads that bragged about jobs.


■  Follow Deval Patrick’s example. The high salaries of committee consultants are a major turnoff and breed suspicion about the Games’ costs. Walsh called Patrick’s $7,500 per day fee a distraction. A day later, Patrick said he’d promote Boston’s bid for free. The rest of the high rollers on the committee should follow suit. On the nearly $1.5 million payroll, six of the top 10 salaries are more than $100,000 a year and they’re not full-time. The top dog gets $300,000 a year. If organizers truly believe in the idealistic benefits of hosting the Games, they should work pro bono.


■  Deal with data. Your price isn’t right. Smith College economics professor Andrew Zimbalist has researched the costs of hosting previous Olympics. He says your estimates of the price tag are unrealistic and that “the notion that you can avoid cost overruns is pie in the sky.” It took Montreal 30 years to pay off its $1.5 billion debt for the 1976 Olympics. Virtually no one buys your rosy projections for revenue from TV rights, ticket sales, donations, and federal security. Get real.

■  Answer your critics. A lot of anti-Olympics animus is over where you’re going to put everything. The mayor and congressman from Somerville, for example, don’t particularly like a White Elephant velodrome at the sparkling new Assembly Row mall. People on Beacon Hill don’t want tons of sand on Boston Common for beach volleyball. Those who golf, picnic, and otherwise use Franklin Park aren’t thrilled at horses galloping around, damaging the grounds. Assuage the public’s fears.

■  Don’t bully the audience. Decades ago, Michael Dukakis’s campaign slogan was, “Mike Dukakis should be governor.” Voters didn’t want to be told what they should do. Four years later, they elected Ed King. Ask for public support, don’t demand it.

■  Stop losing on social media. You’re getting killed on the Internet, especially on Twitter. It’s now more fun to be against the Olympics than for them. Postings from the committee are humorless, self-congratulatory pap. Hire young people to fight back.


■  Too many bosses. A huge PR problem with your committee is it’s all bosses, no workers. John Walsh, the talented organizer for Deval Patrick and Elizabeth Warren, will now manage an Olympics door-to-door campaign. John’s good, but he’ll need what you haven’t delivered: compelling, clear arguments to persuade an increasingly skeptical public.

Dan Payne is a Boston-based media consultant who has worked for Democratic candidates around the country and does political analysis for WBUR radio.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified a possible location for the 2024 Games.