Honoring the 25th Anniversary of the 1984 Olympics

July 25, 2009

Last summer, the Beijing Olympic Games were a rousing spectacle, filled with special athletic performances and an impressive opening ceremony.

But the success in Beijing would not have been possible without the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, as the '84 Games established the blueprint for mega-event efficiency. July 28, 2009, will mark the 25th anniversary of those influential 1984 Games, and throughout Southern California many of the organizers behind the XXIII Olympiad will be honored.

To fully understand why the '84 Games were so crucial, a little historical perspective is needed. Only then can one begin to realize that the Los Angeles Games were vital to the survival of the Olympic institution itself.

Climate Prior to the Games

The 1976 Olympics in Montreal encountered tremendous budget difficulties which caused it to be far more expensive than originally projected. As a result, few cities submitted bids to host the 1984 Games.

Essentially, the competition to host the '84 Games came down to New York and Los Angeles. Since only one city per country could submit a bid, the U.S. Olympic Committee by default held the determining vote for the entire world. New York lost their bid by a mere 9 votes, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Still, winning the bid brought a host of additional problems for the XXIII Olympiad. Because the Games would take place in the United States, the U.S.S.R. decided to boycott the Olympics in retaliation for Jimmy Carter's U.S. boycott of the 1980 Games in Moscow. Worse yet, many nations friendly to the Soviets were predicted to fall in line with the boycott as well.

To overcome these obstacles, organizers would need to be resourceful. Fortunately, they were.

How Los Angeles Succeeded

The most important action taken by Olympic organizers was to hire businessman Peter Ueberroth to run the event. Ueberroth's first move was to avoid the fiscal debacle that plagued Montreal.

Ueberroth learned very quickly about the importance of funding, when a Century City landlord refused to rent office space to Los Angeles Olympic organizers because of the stigma from past debt-ridden Olympiads.

To combat this perception, Ueberroth shrewdly generated an immediate cash reserve by encouraging television networks to engage in a bidding war for rights to the Games. The key to this competitive bidding was a $500,000.00 mandatory buy-in per network, in which all of the losers were guaranteed to get their deposit back in full.

When four television companies put down deposits, organizers had $2 million in immediate cash. Because interest rates hovered at around 17% in those days, organizers were able to run for years off of that interest alone.

Second, Ueberroth changed the method of securing corporate sponsorships by using a "more bang for the buck" approach. In other words, the overall number of sponsorships would be reduced so that each individual sponsor would receive greater exposure. In exchange, the sponsors would have to cough up more money. And in some cases, that money would amount to over ten times the sum paid in prior Olympic years.

The strategy worked like a charm.

With the sponsorship money, organizers were able to construct two venues without putting any significant financial burden on the City of Los Angeles. For other events, the organizers chose to use facilities already in existence.

Overall, the television and sponsorship money led to a net profit of over $210 million. That money is still being disbursed today for community projects through the LA84 Foundation.

Third, Ueberroth saved the Games from becoming a repeat of 1980 by convincing numerous countries not to boycott along with the Soviets. From Soviet predictions of a 100 nation boycott, Ueberroth was able to whittle down the list to merely 14.

The two most important countries to follow Ueberroth's lead were long-time Soviet allies, China and Romania. In fact, the Romanian athletes were given a standing ovation during the Opening Ceremony for their decision to participate. Meanwhile, for China, the Games carried their own historical importance, as it was the first time since the 1950s that China had fielded an Olympic team.

Fourth, Ueberroth and the LAPD beefed up security significantly, with a more pronounced and visible police presence. Not only did the Games go off without a hitch, but crime levels memorably dropped as well.

Finally, Ueberroth's greatest accomplishment might have been curing the city's infamous traffic problem. By encouraging carpooling and getting truckers off the roads at certain times, LA traffic astonishingly did not become an issue at the Games.

Incredibly, nearly everything worked according to plan.

The Impact of the 1984 Games on Los Angeles

The 1984 Olympics without question established Los Angeles as the premiere sports town in America during the 1980s. And it wasn't even close.

The Olympics gave LA its own unique momentum that seemed to propel the town through the decade. Already a sought-after location for players and free agents, the Olympics enhanced the prestige of the city that much more.

In basketball, Los Angeles had the team of the decade in the five-ring Showtime Lakers, and probably the greatest team of all time in the 1987 Magic Johnson-led squad.

In baseball, the Dodgers provided the city with Fernandomania as well as two titles in 1981 and 1988.

In football, LA had two professional teams, and earned a Lombardi trophy along the way with the Raiders.

In hockey, the Los Angeles Kings were a tremendous draw around the NHL late in the decade, thanks to the team's blockbuster Wayne Gretzky trade.

Meanwhile, UCLA and USC also provided their share of thrills, with a Heisman winner and several Heisman candidates. UCLA also posted an impressive 7 bowl win streak, with three Rose Bowl victories against the Big Ten, and wins over Florida and a Jimmy Johnson-led Miami squad.

Ultimately, these successes made LA the place for athletics during the 1980s. And the Olympics were one of the engines driving that machine. No longer haunted by past failures in the NBA Finals or by World Series losses, the Olympics gave the city a more "can do" collective state of mind.

But the Olympic effect on LA was not always so abstract.

The $200 million dollar surplus from '84 has funded numerous endeavors in the city for the past 25 years.

More importantly, the smoothness with which the Olympics were run led to additional events being hosted by the city, such as the 1994 World Cup and the SuperBowl.

The Impact of the 1984 Games on Future Olympics

The '84 Olympics changed the entire perception of the event for cities who potentially might one day host their own Olympic Games.

Prior to 1984, the Olympics were viewed as a burden. From the debt of Montreal, to the political boycott in Moscow, to the tragic 1972 terrorist attacks in Munich, the Olympics seemed to bring its own set of baggage to the host city. As a result, the demand to host the Games dropped significantly.

After 1984, the Games were viewed as an opportunity.

The profits and prestige earned during '84, created a huge incentive for other cities to host the Games. Today, cities go the extra mile to show the IOC that their town is indeed the best place to host the event. Essentially, the bidding environment has done a 180-degree-turn, which is good for the long-term survival of the event.

A classic example of this is seen with the recent Olympics in Beijing. Regardless of whether China profited financially from the Games, at a minimum, the Olympics certainly elevated the nation's prestige. And prior to '84, that might not have been possible.

However, the changes in 1984 were not always on such a macro level. Specifically, the planning and day-to-day administration were improved.

One example can be seen in the efforts made to control gridlock. China followed the LA example by carefully planning ahead for traffic problems with a vehicle voucher system. Similar to '84, their distinct system limited the number of cars on the road, and traffic did not become an issue during the event.

Another area influenced by the LA Games was the increased scale of the Opening Ceremony. Although today the '84 ceremony appears dated when compared to 2008, at the time it was grander than in past Olympiads.

Finally, LA deserves some credit for bringing baseball and tennis into the Games as demonstration sports. Although this accomplishment really was an IOC decision, the '84 Games at least demonstrated that both sports were spectator-friendly and competitive enough to warrant their inclusion in future Olympiads.

In particular, when the Mark McGwire-led U.S. Baseball Team failed to capture gold, it proved that amateur baseball had some degree of parity across the world. This notion of a fairly even worldwide talent level in baseball has indirectly led to the development of such other events as the World Baseball Classic.

Once in a while, when somebody get things right, he or she should be entitled to gloat a little. Los Angeles, now is your moment.

By Mike Elliott
Staff Editor of TheDailySportsHerald.com

See our related articles on the Top 10 Moments of the '84 Games:

1. Top 10 Moments of the '84 Games Part I
2. Top 10 Moments of the '84 Games Part II

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