The Public Resources Subsidizing the LA 2028 Olympics, An Event Designed for Private Profit

Downtown LA as imagined in LA's bid book in 2014

Last updated July 12, 2024

The organizers of LA 2028 claim it will be a privately funded Olympics. They claim a combination of sponsorships, ticket revenue, and licensing and merchandise revenues will be enough to cover the budget — currently a whopping $6.9 billion. However, as has often been the way at past Games, a number of expenditures are not included in the official budget. Several of these expenses appear set to fall on the public. Moreover, the public has already subsidized infrastructure projects that the Olympics will rely on, and may subsidize more in the coming years. The lists below are an in-progress attempt to document a few ways in which the 2028 Olympics will be funded by the public, even if — and it’s a big IF — LA28 balances its official budget. (If the official budget goes over or expected private revenues fall short, taxpayers are on the hook for billions more.) This information is hard to piece together, because Olympics spending is deliberately opaque and messy. Let us know what we’re missing and we’ll update the list!

But first, why it matters

When a city spends money on the Olympics, that’s money that it cannot spend on the actual needs and priorities of its residents. But not only do public Olympics expenditures threaten the city’s ability to fund basic social services — they also subsidize private profit. Already wealthy and well-connected — frequently multinational — companies in the fields of construction, real estate development, security, events consulting, media, and marketing tend to bring in windfalls. NBC made an estimated $250 million in profit on the Rio 2016 Olympics. In LA, the Olympics organizing committee has awarded consulting and marketing gigs to multiple companies owned by LA28 board members, as in the case of the $1.55 million social media and content contract given to Chairperson Casey Wasserman’s 247 Group. (Check out NOlympics LA’s Corruption Dashboard for more!) Who are these Olympics really for, if the public subsidizes an event that generates lucrative returns for a select cadre of powerful corporations? 

Direct costs

  • The labor time of city officials, including staffers at the Mayor’s Office, the Chief Legislative Analyst’s (CLA) office, the City Administrative Office (CAO), City Council offices, and LAPD / LA Sheriff’s Department, among other offices in LA and neighboring cities.
    • “We’ve been meeting multiple times a week for several hours a day,” CLA staffer John Wickham told City Council at a September meeting about the Games Agreement.
    • Beyond the monetary costs for city staffers’ labor time, imagine what ongoing crises in Los Angeles could be better addressed if city staffers were focused on them, instead of the Olympics. 
    • Cost: UNKNOWN
  • Displaying of the Olympic flags. In July 2024 City Council authorized the mayor to display the Olympic flags in City Hall (after receiving them from Paris), which requires the temporary transfer of existing objects in front of the mayor’s office (“gifts to the City) to the LA Convention Center. This seemingly minor move costs the city a whopping half a million dollars, in a year when council has cut spending on significantly more essential services amid a budget deficit.
    • Cost: $500,000
  • Event security costs. In theory, the cost of securing this designated National Special Security Event (NSSE) falls on the federal government. While LA28 has refused to offer an estimate of security costs, since Athens spent $1.5 billion on Olympic security in 2004, security costs have hovered between $1 and 2 billion.
    • Cost: $1-2 billion
  • Improvements to Oklahoma City’s whitewater facility. In June 2024, the IOC approved LA28’s proposal to hold canoe slalom (and softball) in Oklahoma City due to Los Angeles’ lack of appropriate venues. In July 2024, News 9 reported, “Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt and the Oklahoma City Council have proposed a $3.6 million transfer from the MAPS 3 budget to improve [the city’s whitewater facility] Riversport ahead of the 2028 Olympics.” This memorandum proposes to draw the money from MAPS 3, a public fund generated by a sales tax that is slated for capital improvement “projects that improve our quality of life.”
    • Cost: $3,685,826

Additional proposed costs

  • Expansion to LA Police Department. The LAPD claims it needs an additional 3,000 sworn officers by the time 2028 rolls around. As a long-term expansion to the force, this would likely not be covered by the federal government’s event security budget.
    • Cost: approx. $240 million per year (with $80,053 average salary)
  • Expansion to LA Sheriff’s Department. The LASD has been campaigning for an additional 500 deputies to be ready for the Olympics. As a long-term expansion to the force, this would likely not be covered by the federal government’s event security budget.
    • Cost: approx. $39.6 million per year (with estimated $79,200 average salary)

Public funding for new/updated infrastructure that will facilitate the Olympics.

Proponents claim these infrastructure projects have broad public benefits, but (as so often happens with the Olympics) there is limited scrutiny of these claims. The benefits to the public are often overstated and the costs — including opportunity costs — are minimized.

  • The LA Convention Center will host fencing, judo, table tennis, taekwondo, and wrestling for the 2028 Games. Plans to update and expand the center have been in the works for years. In July 2024 LA’s city council voted to spend nearly $100 million to explore whether the renovation would be feasible before the 2028 Games. City councilmembers past and present have touted the potential of the convention center to generate revenue for the city (and to “revitalize” (aka gentrify) downtown LA), yet the initial construction of the venue and its renovations over the course of the late 1970s to early 1990s each failed to live up to rosy revenue predictions. Like stadiums and the Olympics, convention centers are tools to attract an elite form of consumption on the basis that revenue will trickle down to others. But like stadiums and the Olympics, convention centers can just as easily drag cities into a race to the bottom in which taxpayers are constantly told they ‘have to’ spend big to upgrade the city’s luxury amenities just to stay competitive. Additionally, Olympic deadlines for large renovation or construction projects often produce rushed construction work (endangering workers’ rights and lives) and/or higher public costs to meet the arbitrary games deadline.
    • Cost (of construction): $4.78 billion
  • The Inglewood Transit Connector (ITC) appears designed primarily for visitors to Inglewood’s sports venues. The project’s Draft Environmental Impact Report predicted “normal weekday/weekend” ridership to be just 414 riders per peak hour, compared to the estimated 11,450 passengers departing SoFi Stadium within an hour following an event. (Mysteriously, ridership data disappeared from the final EIR!) As 2urbangirls notes, “the people mover doesn’t connect to anything south of the Clippers arena, so the only conclusion you can draw is it’s sole purpose is for the Forum, SoFi Stadium, and the arena.” Originally estimated at $1 billion, the project’s price tag had ballooned past $2 billion as of early 2024. Inglewood has received a commitment of over $1 billion in federal funding for the ITC, $502 million from the State of California, and $203 million from LA County’s Measure R Highway Funds. Both the federal and state governments cited the 2028 Olympics timeline as a factor in their decision to prioritize funding this project. Inglewood has also sought to raise local taxes (real estate transfer and transient occupancy taxes) to contribute to funding the train, as city taxpayers will be on the hook for its ongoing maintenance and operational costs. (The ITC will also displace 41 businesses.)
    • Cost (of construction): Over $2 billion
  • Exposition Point. 32 low-income families were forced from their rent-stabilized units to make way for this planned complex of hotel rooms, retail and office space, student housing, and other residential apartments, previously known as “The Fig.” In June 2018, LA’s City Council voted to explore public subsidies for the project, “citing the need for hotel rooms to accommodate tourism and the future Olympic and Paralympic Games.” The project was cleared for $103 million in tax breaks in 2019.
    • Cost: $103 million
  • Fig + Pico Hotel. While making its case for tax breaks, the hotel’s developers — Lightstone Group — also “promise[d] to have rooms available for the 2028 Olympics.” The City granted the project $103 million in subsidies.1
    • Cost: $103 million
  • Bonus: Dodger Stadium Gondola. Project proponents claim no public funding will be necessary to fund this extravagant cable car that promises to remove just a miniscule percentage of Dodger game car traffic from the roads. Yet Metro Board members and staffers, LA City Council members and staffers, and Mayor Bass, among other public employees, are already dedicating considerable time and resources to studying this private proposal from former Dodgers owner Frank McCourt and LA ART. This is one to keep an eye on.

Olympics infrastructure with public funding that predated the bid

*It makes sense that this category of items is not counted in the Olympics budget. We include it here to show the additional ways the public has already subsidized the 2028 Olympics and any private profit to be made from them.

  • Staples Center. Developer AEG received $70 million in public subsidies.
    • Cost: $70 million
  • LA Live. In 2005 AEG was granted up to $270 million in public financial assistance over 25 years for the LA Live complex, which includes the Marriott-Ritz Carlton hotel where IOC members will stay during the 2028 Games.1
    • Cost: $270 million
  • [more cases coming soon]

A few other things worth tracking…

Potential cost overruns

  • If Olympics costs go over budget, or if the private LA28 organizing committee fails to secure its planned revenue figures, the City of LA (aka LA taxpayers) is on the hook to cover the difference between revenue and costs.
    • The Olympics have overrun their estimated budgets by an average of 172 percent since 1960. At this rate, LA’s $6.9 billion Olympics budget would grow to approximately $18.8 billion by 2028, leaving the city with debilitating debt. Olympics organizers point out that less of LA’s budget will go to venue construction or maintenance — a category notorious for ballooning costs — compared to other Olympics. But LA has nonetheless budgeted $1.5 billion for venue infrastructure costs. Even if just this portion of the budget increases by 172 percent, the overall costs will increase by $2.57 billion, greatly exceeding the budget’s $610 million contingency fund. 
    • Cost: Unlimited

Cities spending money to compete for Olympics events, or using the Olympics as an excuse to spend public funds

  • Belmont Beach and Aquatic Center. Long Beach plans to build the Belmont Beach and Aquatic Center on the site of a former and now-demolished aquatic center to the tune of $85 million from the city’s public Tidelands Fund. LA28 had apparently “expressed potential interest in hosting diving at the facility,” according to Acting City Manager Tom Modica. As of July 2024, LA28’s list of Long Beach venues did not include this venue, and diving is slated to take place at Exposition Park in LA.
    • Cost: $85 million
  • The World Skatepark. Huntington Beach’s city council proposed “putting $750,000 of the city’s American Rescue Plan funds towards constructing The World Skatepark,” as part of its effort to bring surfing, skateboarding, and BMX events to Huntington Beach. American Rescue Plan emergency funds are given to cities from the federal government for the stated purpose of direct relief and investment to support the economy’s recovery from the devastation wrought by Covid-19. In June 2024, LA28 announced that skateboarding and BMX would take place in the Sepulveda Basin (LA).
    • Cost: $750,000

These lists are not exhaustive! What are we missing? Did we get anything wrong? Let us know in the comments or @_olympicswatch on Twitter

Endnotes

  1. A 2018 report by LA’s City Controller analyzed eight major development projects that the City Council had approved for tax breaks between 2005 and 2018, including the LA Live hotel and the Fig + Pico hotel. The report showed that these projects’ developers had received around $1 billion in combined public subsidies, and argued that “there has not in all cases been adequate evidence” to ensure the tax breaks were needed or good for the city. 

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