As it looks now, SF’s Olympic bid is already doomed

San Francisco has a new Summer Olympics bid in the works. This time they’re targeting the 2024 Games as one of four cities competing for the US bid. The others are Boston, DC, and LA. The bid is Larry Baer’s quixotic dream, and if the region wins the Games he will rightly lauded for his efforts.

Already, the bid the appears to be off on the wrong foot. A $350 million pop-up stadium is to be the centerpiece, though it won’t be in land-starved SF. Instead the stadium and the Olympic village would be housed at the windy, cold Brisbane Baylands just south of the City. The former railyards there are a massive toxic site, needing years of cleanup before they’re ready to build. An EIR is in progress.

The Chronicle’s C.W. Nevius suggested Oakland as the better site, though it makes too much sense to actually happen. As Mark Purdy notes, the Bay Area’s unique brand of provincialism will probably ruin what should be a fully regional effort.

The problems in the Bay Area are simple:

  • Land is far too scarce and expensive to properly rein in the budget
  • The City of San Francisco lacks the outdoor venues to be a proper anchor
  • The previous bids were plagued by having multiple venues 2-3 hours away from SF

All of the places being discussed for a future stadium and village are brownfields like Baylands or former military sites like Hunters Point, Moffett Field, or Alameda NAS. Even Treasure Island has been discussed, and it too has the same infrastructural problems the others face. Tokyo, which won the 2020 Games, is seeing its budget blown to bits while trying to keep the bid compact – most planned venues are within only a few miles of the village).

The Bay Area, which has a gigantic body of water acting as both a physical and psychological barrier to residents and visitors, can’t dream of having a truly compact bid. Instead it needs to capitalize on the resource it has – a great number of existing venues that can host the Games with little need for new construction.

Bid specifics haven’t been released, but what I have seen so far concerns me. Besides the problematic Brisbane site, Coliseum City is mentioned as an adjunct. Meanwhile, $350 million would be spent on a disposable stadium. That’s utter nonsense. Phase the main stadium at Coliseum City correctly and you can save at least $1 billion while providing the Raiders the new home they want. Here’s how.

Phase I: Two main stands

Phase I: Two main stands

It starts with a technique used historically to build English soccer venues: build stands. One on each side of the field. The illustration above shows the track. Modern track meets and the Olympics require more buffer space around the track, which can be accommodated because the stands don’t have concrete poured all the way down to the field. The first 20-26 rows will be portable, similar to the east football seats for Mount Davis. The twin stands would cost $500-600 million to construct and hold 35-40,000 seats.


Phase II: Fill in the ends temporarily


Next, put seats in the end zones and corners. Assuming that this stadium is ready for the Raiders by 2019, these seats don’t have to be on concrete risers. The space between the back of the football end zone and the track oval seats (brown) would be filled by additional rows that go all the way down to the field. There’s your Black Hole. New capacity: 62,000. That would work until…


Phase III: Olympic configuration

After the final game of the Raiders 2023 season, remove the Black Hole seats and start adding temporary sections (green-brown) behind the oval seats. Capacity becomes 80,000 for the Games. After the games end in August, the temporary sections can be removed for football season. If the Raiders want to finish off the stadium in a revenue-maximizing manner, they can undertake a project after the 2024 season ends to remake the end zones.

Phase IV: New end zone sections (temporary sections outlined)

Phase IV: New end zone sections (temporary sections outlined)

The team could add field suites or a huge end zone lounge like what the Patriots are planning at Gillette Stadium. Final capacity: 63,000. This approach would avoid the pitfalls London faced when figuring out what to do with their Olympic Stadium. They did bidding on the post-Games venue after the Games ended, inevitably creating a much more time-consuming, expensive process of stadium redevelopment. If the Raiders are involved from the get-go, they get the venue they want with minimal disruption and cost to themselves. The total cost of this is probably $1 billion. Why? Because all of the important stadium amenities are packaged within the original stands, limiting the amount of square footage built. The two stands can also be built quickly, which should also limit cost.

BASOC’s 2016 bid famously suffered an embarrassing death at the hands of the 49ers, who showed no interest in a multi-use stadium. They had their own vision for a new stadium, eventually realizing it. The Raiders don’t really have a vision for a stadium, looking more towards fulfilling requirements. BASOC and Baer would be smart to recognize the Raiders’ needs as an opportunity. Then again, if the Raiders aren’t in the Bay Area long term, BASOC would have little reason to engage the Raiders.

It’s a shame. There is no market in the country with as many existing, ready-to-use venues for the Olympics as the Bay Area. By 2024 we could have:

  • An Olympic stadium and Village in Oakland with excellent built-in transit access
  • Levi’s, Stanford, Avaya, and Cal Memorial Stadium set up as soccer venues
  • Three major arenas (Warriors, SAP, Oracle), two college arenas (Haas, Maples), and two convention centers (Moscone, McEnery SJ) to handle indoor events
  • Limited new construction required

It would take SF allowing other communities to grab the spotlight. It would take Larry Baer actually being a champion to the region, which he is most certainly not. I too can’t see it happening. Dare to dream, Larry.


29 thoughts on “As it looks now, SF’s Olympic bid is already doomed

  1. All the bids are doomed because no US metro area has a population that wants to pay to meet the IOC’s bullshit demands. There’s a reason the 2022 Winter Games are going to either be in China or Kazakstan, because there’s no accountability there and they can do whatever they want because nobody can challenge them on the economic pitfalls before, during, or after the fact. I expect that trend to continue until major reforms in the bidding process come to the IOC. Same thing goes for FIFA.

  2. Larry Baer’s dream: DOOM baby DOOM!

  3. re: It would take Larry Baer actually being a champion to the region, which he is most certainly not. …Well said.

  4. Time for permanent host cities or end the Olympic experience after the 2020 decade.

    • Cities can’t wait to abandon their olympic bids at this point. If it were announced that each continent could have say up to 2 permanent winter hosts and up to 2 permanent summer hosts, competition to be one of the host cities would skyrocket.

      I feel the way I’ve said it might be a little unclear, but I don’t know how to concisely state it any better, so let me expand. I mean, for example, that North America could have 2 permanent Winter hosts (e.g. Salt Lake and Vancouver) and 2 permanent summer hosts (e.g. Los Angeles and Toronto). Then Europe could have 2 of each (e.g. Innsbruck/Grenoble for Winter and London/Paris for Summer). And so on. Keep in mind the cities I listed are just examples. And places like Africa wouldn’t have any winter sites and might only have one possible summer host (Cape Town perhaps). Same for Australia and South America.

      Then the Winter and Summer games would rotate through the permanent sites. So in the North America example, every other time the Winter Games came to North America, they’d be in Salt Lake. Realistically, that might be every 24 years — assuming 6 permanent winter sites: 2 in North America, 2 in Europe, and 2 in Asia.

      The rotation could be lengthened or shortened (more likely the latter) for either the Winter or Summer Games depending on how many sites were allowed or actually built per continent.

      • I was thinking about it and honed my system a bit. 5 permanent Summer hosts and 5 permanent Winter hosts. That means each site hosts an Olympics every 20 years.

        North America: 1 Summer, 2 Winter
        Europe: 1 Summer, 2 Winter
        Asia: 1 Summer, 1 Winter
        Australia: 1 Summer
        South America: 1 Summer

        North America would be Los Angeles for summer. Salt Lake City and Vancouver for winter.

        Europe would be Paris or London for summer. Oslo and Innsbruck for winter.

        Asia would be Beijing or Seoul for summer. Nagano for winter.

        Australia would be Sydney for summer.

        South America would be Rio for summer.

  5. BTW RM,
    Excellent idea re an Olympic/new Raiders stadium. But yes, it make way too much sense to do, so it’ll never happen.

  6. yeah i’m sure those proud elitist across the bay will want the focal point venue of the olympics here locally to be built in oakland.

    not happening.

  7. Many years ago I signed up to be a volunteer for SF2012. As a rabid homer for the Bay Area, I wanted to show off this region to the rest of the world. But the process and the games are such a monied boondoggle that I now wouldn’t wish such an event on any city.

    That said, the idea to truly share the games over the entirety of Northern California while getting a stadium built for the Raiders, that’s about as optimal as it gets.

    It’ll never happen, but such a great idea!

  8. No thanks. If Larry Baer wants it he can pay for it.

  9. They have set the precedent that the main Olympic Stadium no longer has to be a track and field venue. They could expand Levi’s Stadium (or Memorial Stadium?) to seat 80,000 temporarily and then make it the Olympic Stadium, the same way the 79,000-seat Maracana Stadium (a soccer stadium) will serve as the Olympic Stadium in Rio

  10. Would Howard Terminal be a good location for proposed Olympic Stadium? It’s closer to San Francisco than the Coliseum and would not obstruct the A’s plans to build a new ballpark at the Coliseum site.
    I imagine a Howard Terminal football stadium would have been a better idea 10 years ago when the 49ers, Raiders, and Cal Bears were in the planning stages of football stadium construction.

  11. For any prospective Olympic bid to win out, it has to be a successful and cooperative joint public/private effort. I find it absurd that the Bay Area is considering a serious attempt on bidding for the Olympics, This so called effort is ridiculous, given its current and recent history of refusing to provide any public funding assistance to its professional sports teams for replacing their respective antiquated sports facilities. An approved public/private funding deal to build a new Raiders football stadium at the Coliseum site could be a game changer.

  12. Let’s be clear, even among the 4 US bids, the Bay Area is easily the weakest candidate from a planning standpoint.

  13. You’d need a lot more to renovate the stadium for the Olympics and back again.

    The track is wider and longer than the football field. Assuming 60 feet between the front row and the field on the sidelines (which some NFL stadia cut down to 50 or 55), a football field is 280 feet wide vs. 304 feet for an Olympic track setup, which calculates out to four rows on each side. However, in order to see the track on the near side/end, the seats need to be at field level or have a buffer between the front row and the outside edge of the track, which would make even more of a difference between the width of the track and football setups. By contrast, football seats need to be elevated to see over the sidelines. This is going to require, say, six rows to be added to change from a four foot-high first row to a field level first row, giving us ten rows that need to be accounted for. Unless you build retractable seating sections, the only solution to keep sidelines acceptable is to raise the field about six feet for the Olympics (eliminating the first four rows of football seats) and then lower it back down once the stadium is renovated back for football.

    The end zones are an even bigger mess. Unless I’m not understanding the setup, the brown seats in the football configuration must be elevated a significant amount to have the light blue “Black Hole” sections in front of them (20 feet?). This is going to make it so they can’t see any of the track on the near end and probably a significant portion of the field as well in the Olympic setup. If the brown seats are at field level, they’ll be fine for track but useless for football with the light blue seats blocking them. Since there is no way to retract the different size requirements (400 feet for football with 20 feet behind each end zone vs. 581 feet for the Olympics), it makes the most sense to put semi-temporary end zone stands in for the first few Raider years, rip them out and put other temporaries in for the Olympics, and then build something permanent for the Raiders after. They’d presumably also shift the ratio of sideline and end zone seats to allow for more on the sidelines to minimize the rebuilding.

    • @Brian – That’s why I’d only pour concrete down to the 20th row along the sideline. Rows further down can have a more gradual rise, so that more rows can be accommodated for football and fewer for the Olympics. I’ve considered this for the oval ends too. For the Olympics, the end sections would be taken out and replaced with track-specific sections using the same foundation piers. Believe me, I’ve put a lot of thought into this.

  14. Marine Layer,

    We agree on this 100%. I like your idea about the Raiders new stadium used for a possible Olympics and I also agree with the design and concept of the stadium.

    You’re absolutely right that it makes way too much sense for the SF-centric people running the show. These people would rather throw 350 million dollars away on a temporary stadium, than to even acknowledge Oakland exists.

    We do have some incredible sporting venues in the Bay Area, they’re just not in San Francisco, and of course San Francisco always needs to be the center of attention. No one loves San Francisco more than San Francisco. SF needs to get off its high horse and realize they can’t even come close to hosting any Olympics without the help of Oakland, San Jose, Berkeley, Palo Alto, Santa Clara, etc.

    San Francisco is just the facade without any real substance as far as a location for an Olympics Games.

    • It’s a moot point. They have no shot at getting the bid and the Raiders could very well be gone well before then anyway.

    • They’ll just do what they do with the 49ers. Olympic events scheduled for Santa Clara, San Jose, Oakland, Palo Alto, etc, will be publicized by the media as being “in San Francisco.” Problem solved.

    • Wow, sounds like somebody has some SF envy/inferiority complex.

  15. If this were a true Bay Area effort, I could see it come together. With San Francisco attempting this in a SF-centric manner, it will never happen.

    What better place for an Olympic Stadium and an Olympic Village than the Coliseum Complex and the surrounding undeveloped parcels. The athletes could fly into OAK, take the new BART connector and be at the stadium, arena and Olympic village, in a short 8 minute ride from the airport.

    BART is also expanding to San Jose which makes the Coliseum area even more accessible to a larger segment of the Bay Area population. This is the perfect central location with the best transit in the Bay Area but the San Francisco people don’t want to acknowledge that Oakland even exists.

    Larry Baer went to Cal and even broadcast A’s games as a student, but now acts like he’s Mr. San Francisco while even funneling Cal games to AT&T Park. Larry needs to realize that only 12% of the Bay Area population resides in San Francisco and SF is only a small 49 square mile tip at the end of a Peninsula.

    Without sharing the glory with Oakland, San Jose, Berkeley, etc., this “San Francisco Olympics” will never come to fruition.

  16. Here is a summary of all the people on this blog who make comments:

    “It’ll never wooorrrk!”

    • Complaining about people complaining. Classic.

    • It’s odd how, nearly 20 years post My. Davis, the people saying “it will never work” have been right. Because, you know, nothing has happened in that time frame beyond press conferences and bullshit talking points.

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