Next week, the International Olympic Committee will gather for a vote on a recommendation to award the 2024 and 2028 Summer Olympic Games to Paris and Los Angeles. It might not be official until the IOC formally votes on host cities in Lima in September, but at this point it’s become clear that Los Angeles will get to host an Olympics in either seven or 11 years. The bid committee has lined up a city’s worth of heavy hitters to support the bid, from sports luminaries like Kobe Bryant and Magic Johnson to business dudes like Bob Iger and David Geffen.
LA2024's leader is Casey Wasserman. The 43-year-old Wasserman is a sports agent and branding mogul whose eponymous company works with Pepsi, Microsoft, American Express, the Canadian railroad industry, and a litany of other brands and athletes. He is the grandson of (allegedly mobbed up and very connected) Hollywood mogul Lew Wasserman, and while he’s gradually become an increasingly powerful figure in the world of sports branding, his spearheading of LA2024 is the furthest he’s been thrust into public view.
Wasserman is the subject of a puffy profile from USA Today which does a good job showing the reader a very flattering picture of Wasserman: In this story’s telling he is a reluctant, humble business guy who just wants to help Los Angeles become a better city.
Would the Olympics make L.A. a better city? The best thing you can say about the city’s candidacy is that its pre-existing facilities and infrastructure would inoculate it against the virus that is the IOC, which exists only to enrich itself while casting host cities into financial ruin. This probably won’t ruin L.A. isn’t exactly a stirring argument, though, and given the IOC’s track record, any coverage of the Olympic bidding process should be infused with as much scrutiny and skepticism as possible.
This profile contains nothing of the sort, and is instead filled with nuggets about Wasserman as a chill, hard-working philanthropist who has been shaped by running his galactically rich grandfather’s foundation since he was 21 as much as by any of his business experiences. He was initially reluctant, you see, to take the reins of the project, but his sense of civic responsibility forced him to do so:
[Philanthropy is] also fundamental to how Wasserman sees sports. When he was leading the effort to bring the Super Bowl to Los Angeles, Wasserman asked Renata Simril, president and CEO of the LA84 Foundation, to speak to the NFL owners about the impact a major sporting event can have on underserved communities.
“For Casey to be mindful of using that moment to talk about the other side of L.A. I think really speaks volumes to the type of guy he is,” said Simril.
Roger Goodell had similar praise for Wasserman. Was the fact that Wasserman Media Group worked with the NFL on its deal to use Microsoft tablets on the sidelines relevant here? Maybe and maybe not. Be assured, though, that Goodell likes his passion:
“I think the Olympics are a special achievement for him, and really a labor of love for him,” said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who has known Wasserman for more than 30 years. “I think he’s motivated by the fact that he can take these three passions and make something really special.”
The profile takes for granted that the 1984 Olympics were an unmitigated success and a blueprint for a future Los Angeles-based games while only vaguely getting into the deep crises faced by the IOC and recent host cities. Wasserman’s philanthropic works may deserve praise, but a fair and honest portrait of the Olympic movement in Los Angeles necessitates an examination of its potential downfalls. Not everyone is on board with Los Angeles’s bid, and dissenters have legitimate concerns about the potential use of public funds and the treatment of the city’s low-income and homeless residents.
Beyond that, the idea of Wasserman as a disinterested participant in all this is, to say the least, questionable.
Recent tax documents filed by LA2024 say that the organization “aims to improve and enhance the quality of life of residents of L.A. and surrounding areas through promotion and sponsorship of L.A. as site of the 2024 Olympic Games.” So far, they’ve received $32 million in donations ($3 million of which came from the Wasserman Foundation) and spent roughly half of their war chest, mostly on advertising, travel, and legal expenses. Wasserman hasn’t received any compensation for his role (which he claims he works 10 hours a week on) so far, although a social-marketing business he owns got a $1 million contract. (In that particular case, Wasserman reportedly recused himself from the board of directors’ decision to hire the company.)
Even if Wasserman is doing all of this out of the goodness of his heart, the last thing the world needs is a glowing profile of LA2024's bidding process. Even in the best-case scenario, the Olympics are little more than a party thrown for oligarchs and connected bureaucrats who then leave the city to clean everything up; in the worst case, they’re an instrument for stealing money from people who don’t have it and giving it to people who do. If L.A wins the 2024 bid, it will benefit Wasserman and his buddies far more than it will the city itself. He doesn’t need to be congratulated for that.