The polling data is about as ugly as a mud-caked snowbank in Boston these days.
The U.S. Olympic Committee's reaction to it all: Way too early to panic.
After leading an hour-long Q&A with the leaders of the Boston bid Friday, CEO Scott Blackmun said he naturally wasn't thrilled with recent polling of Boston-area residents by WBUR radio that showed support for hosting the 2024 Games had dipped from 51 to 44 percent between January and February. The poll of 505 registered voters had a margin of error of 4.9 percent.
"People asking the questions are asking the right questions," Blackmun said after the USOC's quarterly board meeting. "This is exactly the point in the process where we should be. Do we wish approval ratings were higher than 44 percent? Yes, we do. But, candidly, it's more important they be high in 2 1/2 years," when the Games are awarded.
There hasn't been a honeymoon period since the USOC chose Boston in January. Questions about public support, salaries paid to the bid's consultants, a possible referendum on holding the Games and venue choices have filled the headlines.
Boston got more than 100 inches of snow this winter, and though snow won't be an issue during summertime 2024, the city's troubles in keeping streets clear and mass transit running have fed into a narrative about whether Boston is fit to handle an Olympic-sized project.
"The questions we asked them are the same questions you're asking us," USOC chairman Larry Probst said. "Polling results, the narrative, what's the communications strategy going forward?"
In a nod to the importance of having institutional bid knowledge on their team, the USOC announced former New York City deputy mayor Dan Doctoroff and Duke athletic director Kevin White were among the newest members of their board of directors. White was on the steering committee for the Chicago 2016 bid. Doctoroff was the leader of New York's attempt to land the Olympics in 2012. Both attempts failed badly.
"It can only be a positive thing for the board and Boston 2024 to have board members familiar with the bidding process," Probst said. "They know what works, what doesn't work and they have some battle scars from the past."
Currently, Boston has only one confirmed opponent in the race for 2024. That's Rome. But a German city, either Hamburg or Berlin, is expected to get into the mix, and Paris appears leaning toward a bid, as well. The United States hasn't hosted a Summer Olympics since 1996. Asked about who was ultimately responsible for footing the bill for the Olympics, Blackmun tried to portray the USOC's role in the project as less than that of the Boston 2024 team.
"We're not in the business of hosting Games," Blackmun said. "Boston 2024 is a private company that was formed to host the Games. We're in the business of trying to generate resources and funding for American athletes."
Still, it's the USOC's relationships with Boston and the rest of the Olympic world that could have the biggest impact on how the bid is perceived, both domestically and abroad. Part of selling the Olympics to Bostonians will involve convincing them that it's possible to stage a $5 billion event without draining the city's — and thus the taxpayers' — bank account. Public money will go toward infrastructure projects that would be used after the Olympics. Boston has touted its high volume of colleges and universities as a built-in group of venues that could cut down on costs.
"This bid will take on the same trajectory a lot of other bids have," Blackmun said. "Very few of us remember what was happening in (2012 host) London in 2002 and 2003. What happens today is much less important than what happens during the six months leading to the vote. We've got lots of time to get the bid to where it needs to be in 2017."
NOTES: The USOC leadership mostly shrugged off news that the International Olympic Committee has signed Toyota to a near-billion-dollar deal as the exclusive Olympic car sponsor beginning in 2017. That was mainly because the USOC has a deal in place with BMW through 2016. When that expires, the USOC will either have to sign its own side deal with Toyota, or go without a car sponsor. "BMW is a great sponsor," chief marketing officer Lisa Baird said. "We're grateful for their support in preparing our athletes for the Rio 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games."
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