Why Cities Find The Olympics Games Are Losing Their Appeal

NPR's Rachel Martin talks to Slate.com's Mike Pesca about the record $2 billion purchase of the LA Clippers, and about why no one wants to host the 2022 Winter Olympics.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Why is it that some sports teams can attract huge sums of cash, but some sporting events - even global ones - can repel entire cities? The saga of the L.A. Clippers former owner, Donald Sterling, is far from over. He's just filed a lawsuit against the NBA. But that didn't stop Steve Ballmer, former Microsoft CEO, from making a league record $2 billion bid for the Clippers.

Meanwhile, the 2022 Winter Olympics are losing perspective bidders left and right. Slate.com's Mike Pesca joins us now for more. Hey, Mike.

MIKE PESCA: Hey.

MARTIN: So let's start with the 2022 Olympics. Why no love? People dropping out? It's the Olympics.

PESCA: Yeah. Just recently Krakow said - there were six finalists - and Krakow said, eh, not us and Munich, not into it. Davos, St. Maritz - there was a combined bid. Stockholm, too, is a really weak bid. So you have all these bids from these European countries - these Western European countries. They're eschewing the Olympics. The only two alive bids - if you want to call them that - are Beijing and a bid from Kazakhstan.

And so here's what I think is going on. The Olympics are a money loser. And so if you look at - and not just the Olympics, you know, the World Cup does this too. But if you look at the countries that have been bidding and pursuing them - if you look at the Beijing Summer Olympics, if you look at the Sochi Olympics - they're for the prestige of the country - to elevate the country, to elevate the country's leaders. But as this happens, I make an analogy to luxury brands. And part of the appeal of a luxury brand is that they're a cultural signifier. That's exactly how sometimes dictators, sometimes, you know, oppressive leaders use the Olympics - to signify we're real. We're legit, and we've arrived. But when this happens, the elites who are used to, like, the luxury brands flee. So when Burberry goes to H&M, Burberry gets a little more sullied. And I think this is one of the reasons why the Olympics is no longer popular among cities like Munich or Krakow. And it may be only some of those brick nations or up-and-coming nations will be bidding on them.

MARTIN: Yeah, losing it's cachet, while the L.A. Clippers - $2 billion, hello. What's the connection here?

PESCA: Yeah. I just think it's about the - how we irrationally price sports franchises. Now there was some talk - hey, Ballmer has enough money, sure. That's not the point. Can the L.A. Clippers ever justify that? And, you know, there was recently a lockout where all the owners submitted their files and said we don't even make money on basketball. And that's actually not a lie. There is no way in terms of revenue for you ever to justify anywhere near that price.

But the thing is, it comes in the resale. And the reason it comes in the resale is there's only 30 teams. And there are all these billionaires who are, like, I don't care if I lose money. I don't care if I make just a little bit of money. I want to spend my billions on one of these teams. So it's the other side of the irrational pursuit of sports or, you know, sporting enterprises, I suppose.

MARTIN: I'm saving my pennies. I want one too. Slate.com's Mike Pesca. Listen to his daily podcast, "The Gist," on iTunes. Thanks, Mike.

PESCA: You're welcome.

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