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Meet the Vendor
Behind the LA 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Bid Process with Chief Bid Officer Danny Koblin
by Chris Carver
on April 25, 2017
LA2024

INTRODUCTION
To me, the "bid" for the Olympic and Paralympic Games is one of the most interesting processes we have in all of sport (and major live events for that matter) and something every city hoping to attract large scale events of any kind, and any production company hoping to work with them can learn from. And... I'd argue in many ways should emulate (whether they are going after an Olympic bid or not). 

Yes... we've seen and heard about the negative impact the games can have on the local economy. Yes... there's always rumors of corruption, etc. But... if you can look past that for a moment, this is a process where a city or region highlights there ability (or inability) and infrastructure to support a major world event. Where they lay out their venue planning, their transportation plans, their hospitality and emergency planning, their permiting, production capabilities, along with a showcase of how their city and country embodies the Olympic spirit.  

Enjoy.

 

LA 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Bid Process - LA 2024 Marathon Rendering
LA2024 Renderings from LA2024.org Team 

LET'S SET THE SCENE
I was so excited to put together this two part series on what has gone into one of the most publicized (in a good way) Olympic and Paralympic bids in the past several decades.

Getting an opportunity to peak behind the curtain of LA 2024 Bid process was incredible. This has been a multi year, multi million dollar effort with some of the best and brightest working under intense deadlines and uncertainty. I figure, if I we can't learn something invaluable from them, well... that's our problem. I mean... just figuring out how to consolidate and visualize how many venues a city like LA has is a huge process (which surprisingly not many cities have).

LA 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Bid Process - Venue Map
Map from LA2024 Bid Book: Click here to download the full book

Luckily for us, Danny Koblin (LA2024 Chief Bid Officer) and John Harper (LA2024 COO), were willing to take a few hours out of their 16 hour days to share their experience.

For this first interview with Danny, I was really excited to learn:

Enjoy.

LA 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Bid Process - Bid Box
The LA2024 Bid Packaged up and ready for delivery

You ready to do this, Danny.
Yep. Let's do it.

Where did you grow up?
I grew up on the west side of Los Angeles.

So are you a Dodgers fan?
Oh yeah. I am a die-hard Dodgers fan! Die, more than anything.

What was 15-year-old Danny like?
Pretty shy. Very into sports, I played a ton of baseball, tennis and golf. I had a lot of friends, close friends, but I really enjoyed hanging out with my family and my parents. I spent a lot of time with my mom and dad and especially with my dad. We'd play golf and tennis and go to games together.

At that age what was hanging on your wall?
Let’s see, at 15.... I had a cool poster of an exhibit from Cooperstown. I also had the Bo Jackson poster “Bo Knows”, where he was in 6 or 7 different uniforms. So Bo Knows: Baseball, Football, Hockey, Basketball, etc.

I remember it well.

I also had a big poster of Jackie Robinson that read "Champion" across the top...and a sheet of the Jackie Robinson stamps that were framed right next to it. I still have the poster and stamps today...one of my very most prized possessions.

You mean this one:
That's the one!

LA 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Bid Process - Jackie Robinson Poster in Danny Koblin room 

If we were at the at the Dodger Stadium, watching a game and your buddies had a couple ballpark beers, how would they describe you now?
Somebody who always has a great attitude about things, who always thinks that there's a silver lining in everything. They would say that I'm just a really nice guy. I got teased a lot for being too nice. Sometimes I'd be called Nice Guy Danny.

If you could compete against one Olympian, who would it be and why?
Gosh, I would have to go with Carl Lewis. I mean, Carl Lewis is the best. I saw him compete in 1984. I also saw him compete in 1996. So I believe I saw him win his first gold medal in the long jump and his last gold medal in the long jump.

Also... my life has a couple of interesting twists with Carl Lewis. I went to go work for NBC News at the Olympic Games in Atlanta. I had interned for NBC News for a couple of different summers and I got assigned to Tom Brokaw. Tom Brokaw, I was basically his driver, his runner.

Carl Lewis won his gold medal after the 1996 games in the long jump, I went and took Tom to pick up Carl at his hotel and then they went and did an interview in the Olympic Park and Carl was probably the most famous or popular person in Atlanta at that time. He never made it back to our car. Later that day as Tom and I were driving around, we kept hearing a beep in the car. We didn't know what it was, and this was after the bomb had exploded in Olympic Park. He said, "Figure out what that beep is. I'm concerned." I'm a 22-year-old kid. I'm like, "Shit, I don't know. I don't know what the beep is. I don't want to get blown up in this car." Everyone was on edge.

What it turned out to be was in the back seat underneath the driver or the passenger side seat was this Nike mesh bag. Inside this Nike mesh bag were pagers, Carl Lewis' pagers that were going off, but also in this bag was Carl Lewis' gold medal.

LA 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Bid Process - Tom Brokaw and Danny Koblin with Carl Lewis Gold Medal
Young Danny (right) and Tom Brokaw (left) celebrating gold.

NO WAY!
Yeah, it was crazy. I'm 22... I've got Carl Lewis's gold medal... I was so excited. So I brought it back to Brokaw. We took it out, we took pictures with it, and then Brokaw wrote him a note saying, "I guess since you already have eight of these, you don't mind giving me this one." I brought it back to him, to his people, and sort of full circle, I got to meet Carl in this process. He's part of our Athlete Advisory Commission and I have this picture in my office of me and Tom Brokaw holding this medal, which was Carl Lewis' medal and I showed it to Carl. He started telling me the story and he remembered it. I've always had this special connection to Carl Lewis, so I just think competing against the best of his time (and maybe of all time), would be quite an honor.

Amazing!

LA 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Bid Process - Danny Koblin and Carl Lewis.jpg
Fast forward 20 years: Young Danny (Left) and the guy who won the gold medal (Olympic Icon Carl Lewis)

What is one thing you learned from your MBA at Kellogg that you've been able to apply to the Olympic and Paralympic Bid?
My time there taught me how to be resourceful, and the importance of the right relationships. Understanding that being comfortable networking and asking for favors and finding those who can help in a certain situations, has been something that I've taken to every single position I've had post-Kellogg and especially in this one.

What's one thing about this situation that business school, didn't prepare you for?
This bid for LA is just so unpredictable. When you're in school and you're studying cases or learning about theories, you know, you've always got a singular problem to solve. Here all sorts of different things are getting thrown at you. Locally within the community, nationally with the political climate, to what our international competitors aiming for the games are doing. In school, it's just hard to simulate the real world of change. In this environment of Olympic bidding, it is just constantly changing.

What are the top 3 priorities for a Chief Bid Officer?

So fast forward to today. How many direct constituents are you communicating with from all the agencies in LA to the athlete support, to your core team?
It’s a massive amount. Governmental agencies, agencies in LA like local law enforcement, fire, water, sanitation, city council members. We've had our community staff go to every single council district in the city and do a big presentation so that everybody felt like they could be heard and and that we could touch everybody independently. We're talking to a lot of sustainability organizations within the community. We just launched a volunteer program in the last week actually.

We've had a team, mostly led by our general council, at the state level to ensure that the governor is supporting our campaign. Nationally, we want to make sure that this is considered America's bid, so engaging a broader audience through the U.S. Olympic Committee's (USOC) reach has been a big priority not to mention the federal government.

LA 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Bid Process - LA 2024 Community Engagement
The Olympic  and Paralympic Bid is a Community Effort and the City of Angels is rallying behind the effort.

I know you guys have done a number of unique things to distribute the message. Were there any unconventional strategies that have worked really well that typically haven't been tried before?
One of the benefits of being in LA is that we are in the culture of innovation and imagination and creativity. Really the convergence of technology and entertainment, is happening here. We've done some pretty cool, unique partnerships with Snapchat when we first launched our brand back in February 2016.

The technology wasn't there for past cycles, but we've done a bunch of Facebook Live Q&A's with Casey and Janet Evans, where we've let our community reach out, both domestically and internationally to ask question directly to our bid leaders so that they can hear from them directly.

LA 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Bid Process - Janet Evans
Janet Evans and the LA2024 Team Pounding the pavement to get support. It's crazy to see the similarities between an Olympic Bid and a Presidential Campaign.

Often we see everybody focused on their plans, but for us it's really important for the community, international community, to really understand a more surprising side of LA, a side that maybe you can't read in the pages of a bid book. 

LA 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Bid Process - LA Culture
LA2024 highlighting all aspects the LA Community to show that it's truly in-line with the Olympic ideals.

Given that this is the LA Bid for the Olympics, how much pressure is there to push the envelope with tech and media?
I wouldn't say it's pressure. I would say it's just in our physical makeup. It's where we go for ideas. Of course, whatever we do, I feel like there's pressure in that what we do has to be the best because we do believe that within LA there are the best innovators, there are the best storytellers, there are the best, just some of the best artists and musicians and chefs.

We feel like we need to live up to those expectations through any material that we develop because that's what our city is all about. That's why so many people move to LA to chase their dreams and to make their dreams a reality, is because there's this optimism in the air. There's this sense of community that I can do this in LA. There's so much support here for me to do whatever it is that I want to do. That does have a little bit of pressure because we don't want to let the city down.

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Outside of September 13th, 2017, is there another critical milestone between now and then?
We have quite a few. We recently had an important presentation in the beginning of April in Denmark. It was a short presentation to the Association of Summer Olympic International Federations (ASOIF), during a conference called The SportAccord Convention.

Coming up a huge milestone with what's called the Evaluation Commission visit. This group consists of 12 IOC members, plus some subject matter experts. They're going to visit every city. They're visiting LA from the 9th to the 12th of May. We'll have a full day of meetings. They'll do site visits. They'll hear from experts on accommodations and transportation and security, all the things that are really important to help execute the games.

Then a technical briefing that takes place in Switzerland, which is the Headquarters of the IOC in July. July 11th and 12th, we'll do a 45 minute presentation, followed by some Q & A. Then we'll have a room set up and we'll need to create an experience in that room that helps further demonstrate the benefits of our plan.

Throughout all of that, from now until Lima, we're developing content, helping push out our messaging through every means possible. Up until now, we haven't been able to promote our bid internationally, but now we actually have the opportunity to send direct mail, or advertise internationally or reach out to IOC members more directly. We're going to make sure that we don't leave any stone un-turned.

"It all hinges on those votes." twitter-128.png

 


Whether LA wins the bid or not, what are you going to be most proud of in this three, four years you've been cranking away at it?
I’ll be most proud of the amount of people that I've met personally throughout this process, people on our team, and just in the city, country, internationally, the places I've been able to visit because of this job, the content that we've created to really highlight our plan.  Also the fact that we created an incredible plan. We mobilized partners. We just generated a ton of support for something that has been recently so controversial. To be able to say that we were a part of this campaign, win or lose, I think is just going to be one of those moments in my life, or years of my life, that I'll just never forget.

LA 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Bid Process - Danny Koblin, Allyson Felix, LA Mayor Garcetti and LA 2024 COO John Harper
Danny (left), Allyson Felix, LA Mayor Garcetti, LA2024 COO John Harper from LA Sports Council Awards show

Clearly the city of LA is going to be better off whether you win or not based off of how you highlighted the nuances of the city.  I'm sure there's a ton of data that you guys have unraveled around venues, around hotels.  Do you think the impact of your work with the bid will help LA attract other major events besides the Olympics.
I think that's a good point. A lot of cities create plans around Olympic and Paralympic bids that leave legacies on cities themselves. When Chicago created their bid, they actually had ten million dollars left over and with that they created what's called World Sport Chicago.

The beauty of LA is we already have the LA84 Foundation, so we've been working really close with the LA84 Foundation to try to just create more awareness for them, to showcase the things that they're already doing in the city. We're already spending almost $100 billion dollars in infrastructure to our transportation network. We're able to highlight that through an Olympic lens of what the city is already doing and it's already voted on doing.

Making people more aware of what's happening in the city with or without the Olympic and Paralympic Games has been extremely beneficial.  And this fits perfectly into the Olympic Agenda 2020, which was established to help reform the bidding process and encourage cities to not create things solely for the Olympic Games, but rather incorporate the needs of the Olympic Games into the long-term plans of the city. For us, it’s so perfect.

If you had to start from scratch what advice would you give yourself?
Be incredibly organized. There are a lot of things predictable and unpredictable that are going to constantly be thrown at you, so make sure you keep records of everything because you never know when you're going to need to go back and look at things.

And find time to sleep!

How would you describe the culture of the core team working on the bid?
It's family. Really feels that way. I mean, it's an eclectic group of people. We all came from very different backgrounds. We've got a mix of lawyers, and marketers, and technical folks, and people that worked in government and politics, but we all came together around this singular purpose and are there for each other every step of the way and just delivering our bid book.

LA 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Bid Process - Rio Redeemer
Danny and the Team pitching the dream in Rio

From time to time we’ll pop a bottle of champagne because we all know how special of an opportunity we have in front of us. We feel really fortunate to be part of this movement for our community and our country. Having that as the lowest common denominator really helps create a family atmosphere very quickly.

LA 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Bid Process - Rio Observer program

I have a quick scenario for you. You just won the bid host LA 2024 Olympiad. What are you doing a few days after and then a week after?
If we just won the campaign and immediately after I’m going to try to take a couple days off. If I was in Lima and I find out the news I’d try to go to Machu Picchu because I’ve always wanted to see that.

A week later if I’m fortunate enough to come back and have an opportunity to work on the organizing committee we need to start executing our transition plan. We need to make sure that once we win that we are ready to go. The clock will start ticking again. Right now, I look outside my office and we have a countdown clock and it says 140 days, 17 hours and 3 minutes to the final vote in Lima.

If we win the countdown starts all over again to 365 times 7, or a little less.

What's the best piece of career advice you've received and from who?
My dad had such an amazing perspective on life and he always would say to me “Just do the best that you can possibly do and everything else will work itself out.” I always think about that because if I know that I'm doing my best, no matter what position I'm in, good things are going to happen.


“Just do the best that you can possibly do and everything else will work itself out.” twitter-128.png


In your work life are you insecure about anything?
I never feel like I'm doing enough. I always feel like there's more that we could be doing. There's more tactics that we can think of. There's more creativity that we can add. There's just always more, more, more, more, more. I'm living in a constant world of insecurity because I just don't feel like we can ever do enough.

I can see why your Dad’s advice hits home so well.
Definitely.

Parting Wisdom?
Never lose sight of “why” you are doing whatever you are doing.  It’s so important to really understand that at the core. And then working hard enough and being patient enough to let that success unfold. And if you're not successful, realizing that you'll have another opportunity to do it again.

Screenshot 2017-04-17 16.15.33.png


"Never lose sight of “why” you are doing whatever you are doing." twitter-128.png


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