Saturday, June 14, 2014

Great Seats, Huh, Buddy!

Business columnist Shirley Leung of the Globe took some time off from talking up real estate development this morning to wistfully wonder why there isn't more enthusiasm in these parts for making a bid to host the 2024 Olympic Games. Makes one wonder just how long she's lived here. Is some civic event possibly fun for large numbers of people? Boston's against it!

The front page of the paper informed us Boston is on the "short list" of candidate host cities of the U.S. Olympic Committee. Left out of the headline was the fact the list got shorter due to a lack of volunteers, New York and Philadelphia having recently withdrawn their applications. Those fine burgs were acting prudently. An Olympics is years and years of hard work and extraordinary costs for no tangible economic reward and more likely very tangible debt interest payments for eons afterwards.

Leung stressed the "where is our civic pride?" angle in her column. Without meaning to be cruel, it must be said she could not have chosen a more pathetic and futile argument. Our city's chronic naysaying stems from an excess of civic pride, not a deficit. By and large, we think we're fine and dandy just the ways things are.

But I have come not to mock Leung, but to add a timid voice stating there are benefits to an Olympics. They're just not ones that turn up on a balance sheet.

Economics research is clear on this point. As many citizens of Brazil are kind of upset about, there are no trickle-down effects to the public good of hosting big time sports events. The biggest sports event in the U.S., the Super Bowl, offers one weekend where hotel owners make more money than usual, and that's it. Otherwise, it comes and goes in a city with no impact whatsoever.

 One thing's for sure. The average resident isn't getting a ticket. He or she will watch the game on TV just as if it was taking place 3000 miles away. That's pretty much the way it goes for the World Cup, too. A nosebleed seat in Brazil goes for about a month's pay for the average worker. It WAS possible to get tickets when the 1994 Cup came to Foxboro, but FIFA has added many extra layers of greed on the tournament since then.

But the Olympics are different, because there are so much of them. This is the one big sports event,where the average host city sports fan CAN get a ticket and participate in the fun. No, you won't get into the opening ceremonies, the basketball and women's gymnastics finals or track and field the night of the 100 meter dash. But that leaves more events than I feel like mentioning where a small amount of foresight will get a fan into what is, after all, a world championship of whatever sport he or she is watching.

Think archery, badminton and field hockey are silly? You just haven't gotten around enough. Anybody who goes to a Games and checks them out ought to realize that there are countless fans in Seoul, Bangkok and Karachi who'd do anything to change places with them.

The fan will never watch of those sports again. That's the whole point. The Olympics are a once in a lifetime sports experience that it's actually possible to experience. Ask the good people of Atlanta. There were many issues with the 1996 Games, but by God those Southerners turned out in droves for every sport on the card and had a damn good time doing it.

I wouldn't bet a Confederate war bond on Boston ever getting a Games. That's because of geography, not civic spirit or the lack thereof. A Games would require the construction of large sports venues, and there's just enough space to build new stuff in our metropolitan area -- at least stuff that's not another luxury tower for rich people to live in.

But if perchance a series of miracles longer than Cal Ripken's games played streak came to pass and the 2024 Games were to be held in Boston, it'd be a miracle Bostonians could look at in person.


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