A first-hand report from Daley Plaza in Chicago
I was in Chicago on N. Clark Street last Friday for a morning business meeting. I was right next to Daley Plaza where United States Olympic organizers had planned a big celebration for the impending announcement that the City of Chicago was to be awarded the 2016 Summer Olympic Games. I joined the crowd just minutes before the first vote was announced. There were thousands of revelers all dressed up in theme orange (even the Daley fountains were spouting orange) and ready to celebrate their winning bid. The plaza and surrounding streets were packed with party-goers, organizers, volunteers, politicians, Olympic heroes, dignitaries, police, and of course multitudes of news trucks. A giant stage and huge video screens surrounded the square.
Chicago’s Big O celebrities, the Obamas and Oprah, had jetted into Copenhagen and “wowed” the International Olympic Committee voters the evening before. WGN Chicago quoted Charmaine Crooks, an Olympian and former International Olympic Committee member from Canada relating, “Everyone is mesmerized by Oprah.” Oprah herself told the news media, “It’s a seven-year party, and the party could start tomorrow.”
The headline in Anderson Cooper’s 360 blog on the morning of the vote was “Michelle Obama steals the show in Copenhagen.”
All the Chicago news stations had been buzzing for two days how Chicago had the advantage or at least would be in a showdown with Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro in the final round of voting. Tokyo first, and then Madrid would tumble against the onslaught of the City of Big Shoulders.
And then… the announcement.
Chicago was the first city to be eliminated. Their vote total was a paltry 18 out of 94. In sports terms, they were spanked. The first time a U.S bid had been eliminated in first-round voting. Ever. From where I stood in Daley Plaza, the entire contingent was in disbelief. Shocked. No one knew how to react. The last thing anyone expected was to get booted hard in round one.
So what happened?
Plenty, underneath the glitzy surface.
• Chicago’s funding was not even close to being guaranteed.
• There was considerable dissent, within Chicago over finances and the siting the games’ venues.
• The was unresolved acrimony between the United States Olympic Committee and the International Olympic Committee over TV rights and other issues.
• There was a massive, rancorous personnel shake-up in the U.S. Olympic Committee executive levels at a critical time when continuity was needed.
• The obvious: There were of course, three other highly qualified countries and ultimately, the opportunity to host the games on the South American continent for the first time ever.
(Interestingly, and offered up as a total non-political aside, I was standing below the Rev. Jesse Jackson, and he blamed Internet news coverage of Chicago youth violence for the loss. And George Bush.)
The marketing lesson? Substance trumps hype.