Over the next five years, we will have the opportunity to witness global events like the World Cup and the Olympic and Paralympic Games, which will unite the world in sport and celebration—the latter being the largest peacetime gathering in the world.
The fact that many around the world will pause and acknowledge each other’s humanity for a few weeks, regardless of which country’s flag is worn, is a significant phenomenon. Equally significant, because of its systems-changing potential, is the shift we are seeing with influential sports actors—big-name teams such as the Chicago Bulls to world-class venues like California’s SoFi Stadium—taking up the mantra to operate with equity as a leading principle and manifesting that through real business outcomes, to increase representation and lift local communities and economies.
While the term “economic legacy” has long been part of the sports vernacular, what has shifted is the intention to make these legacies truly equitable and accessible to underrepresented communities— specifically BIPOC communities—the very people historically pushed out of these generational-changing opportunities.
Start local, expand from there
APCO recently convened a panel during Los Angeles Tech Week on Delivering Equity Through Global Sports Events, where panelist Jason Witt, senior director of community affairs and engagement at SoFi Stadium and Hollywood Park, shared how he approaches his role looking at everything through an “opportunity lens.” SoFi intentionally employs local residents, contracts local vendors, and engages local institutions such as schools to ensure the stadium’s legacy benefits people who reside in and around Inglewood, where the population is 40% Black or African American and 49% identify as Hispanic or Latino. Creating economic opportunities for locals to achieve financial security is top-of-mind when considering partnerships that are stadium-led.
Similarly, the contract between LA28 and the City of LA will create legacy programs, among them is a business procurement program aimed at meaningfully including and reducing barriers for small, underrepresented businesses to bid for contracts related to the Games. One such infrastructure project is the construction being done to LAX, the main hub that will welcome over 15,000 Olympians and Paralympians in addition to an influx of visitors over the summer of 2028. Currently, LAX accounts for 620,000 jobs in Southern California and $37 billion in labor, but with over $5.5 billion worth of capital improvement being invested into LAX, there is great opportunity for skilled laborers to capitalize on this modernization effort.
Tension is good, it’s what brings change
Another panelist at the APCO panel was Jenieri Cyrus, a venture capital investor from Urban Innovation Fund, who said: “we must tell the dark side of the story to share the light.” Yes. And we must have different voices telling the stories—to create different solutions, and to enable more people to participate and influence decision making than ever before.
All 88 cities in LA County will be touched by the Olympic games. Along the journey, there will be joy and unity. There will also be opposition, hard conversations and, likely, protests—about resources, risks, strains on city services and the potential impacts to communities. This tension is good. Tension is what brings change.
Another inevitability ahead of the Games is gentrification: an issue exacerbated by the housing crisis Los Angeles is experiencing. To mitigate gentrification requires targeted investment, affording resources for development and elevating local organizations—such as schools, small businesses and neighborhood associations—to strengthen community representation and participation in decision making. As Jason Witt said, “we’re not going to be able to stop people from moving into [LA]. The goal is how do we keep the people who are already here?” Affording people greater opportunities to wealth creation tools—job skills training, building talent development pipelines, and incentivizing future workforces is a good place to start.
More seats at the table
One of the working principles of the Olympic Games is “Unity in Diversity.” Each Games present an opportunity to build a better world and solve systemic issues, and it will require a set of stakeholders as diverse as the participating nations at the Summer Games. There are over 400 neighborhoods throughout LA, each with a different demographic makeup representing different cultures and a unique point of view. Activating in any one of these communities will require that planning committees, sponsors and brands alike engage with local businesses and organizations to ensure their investments resonate with locals to achieve maximum impact.
It’s true that the monetary cost of hosting a Games is high: LA28’s estimated budget is $6.9 billion to be privately funded by sponsors. Yet that figure is not whole without considering returns on investment. Can you put a price on the increased access to transportation that local residents will benefit from? How many budget lines will the radical reuse of Games supplies save local organizations that inherit them for community use? How many families will benefit from removing barriers to employment? In our polarized world, how should we think in cost-based terms of uniting the country, and indeed, the world, in the largest peacetime gathering?
At APCO, in our social impact practice, we convene diverse communities and help clients shine light on critical issues and influence change for more equitable outcomes. That’s what LA28 represents: a national and global convening of hope, and equally, hard conversations that will force us to do better and be better. Let’s make these conversations meaningful, and the moments lift us all.