First Edition: Bidding for a Living

First Edition: Rob Livingstone

By Rosie Downey

Rob-Livingstone-Olympics

For many, the Olympics are really a thought that crosses the mind just about every four years – or every two for those who are fans of both the winter and summer Olympics. But for Rob Livingstone, it’s the basis for his reporting, almost on a daily basis.

The 47-year-old journalist devotes most of his time to the Olympic bids website, GamesBids.com, which he launched in 1998.

Games Bids is a website devoted to the Olympic bid process. It boasts a collection of news and discussions on past, current and future bids for the summer and winter Olympic Games.

He came up with the idea when he was an economics student at York University in Toronto. His interest in the subject matter started when he wrote a school paper on Toronto’s bid for the 1996 Summer Olympics. (That bid was later won by Atlanta).

Livingstone continued to collect bid information after completing his assignment and when the Internet came to be in the mid-1990s, he published those findings online with the encouragement of others.

Today, Livingstone counts many high-ranking officials within the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and individual National Olympic Committees as sources. He has built relationships with these people by going to events, annual meetings known as IOC sessions and the Olympic Games themselves. “It’s a very face-to-face kind of industry,” he said of the process of building trust with his sources.

One unique aspect of Livingstone’s job as a journalist is that he has to introduce himself and build relationships with an entirely different group of people each time a new bid cycle begins.

These new people can come from a lot of places including the committee that is running a bid for a specific country or the consulting firm hired by a potential host city.

In most cases these groups are new to the bid process and “often they’ll have more questions for you than you’ll have for them,” Livingstone said. He explained that it isn’t unusual that “they wont have the answers right away because they weren’t anticipating the questions.”

Bid participants aren’t the only ones contacting Livingstone for information regarding this complicated process. Passionate fans often debate on the site’s message boards, and in many cases, they are sending him tips.

When Livingstone created the discussion forums, on or around the year 2000, he was surprised by the level of engagement from his audience. “That really made it a two-way process, where I was learning from these people, getting story ideas and more information, writing about it and feeding it back,” he said.

That process has proved tricky in the past though with numerous rumors being floated to him via the message boards and through email. “I have to be careful to validate those and I get lots of those,” he added.

Livingstone also spends a decent amount of time doling out advice to fellow reporters who might have experience, but not necessarily with Olympics coverage.

“They are suddenly getting involved with the bid from their city and they’ve never really thought about Olympic bids before,” said Livingstone. “It’s definitely a challenge for new reporters,” he added.

U.S.-based reporters have already begun contacting him about the country’s bid for the 2024 Summer Olympics. Boston was recently announced as the U.S. Olympic Committee’s candidate city, and Games Bids will track additional cities across the globe as they announce their candidacy.

That’s when Games Bids will really be put to the test.

“Who’s winning the bid?” is the most common question Livingstone hears in his work as reporter and editor for Games Bids. The repetition of that question is what prompted him to create the Bid Index, a statistical tool that was initially calculated with the help of a few experts. The Index went live to cover the 2008 bid, which was won by the city of Beijing in a 2001 vote.

The Bid Index correctly predicted the outcome for the last three Olympic bids (2016, 2018 and 2020). “It sort of made our website the go-to place to find out what’s going on for the bids,” he said.

His proprietary tool works not by calculating the regular odds, as one would see in standard sports betting, but by calculating the ongoing success of a bid based on the elements it shares with past successful bids.

According to Livingstone, these elements can be as varied as whether popular opinion played into the success of a winning bid and if the IOC has adhered to any kind of geographic rotation in its voting history.

Livingstone finds that his work is very cyclical, with his two busiest periods naturally coming in the ramp up to an IOC vote or an Olympic Games.

The next Olympics will take place in Rio de Janeiro in August of next year, and the IOC vote to pick the host city for the 2022 Winter Olympics will take place July 31 of this year in Kuala Lumpur.

Only two cities remain: Almaty, Kazakhstan and Beijing. Regardless of the outcome, Livingstone will be covering the race in great detail for the readers of Games Bids.

Though he has a lot of practice gathering the details for each bidding city, that information wasn’t as accessible in the early days of his reporting. “It was quite a challenge to get the right people to speak to, to get the right information out of them,” Livingstone said.

A huge turning point was the Salt Lake City bid scandal of the late 1990s when Olympic officials allegedly received money to ensure that the Utah city won the bid for the 2002 Olympics. “Everything changed after that,” he said referring not only to the IOC’s more open voting procedures but also to the public’s attention to and understanding of the whole process.

Over time, Livingstone has learned not to be surprised by these races and has continued his coverage without getting personally invested in the fates of the winning and losing cities. He said his motto is ‘always expect the unexpected.’

Reporting by Rosie Downey. Edited by Stephanie Forshee.

Want more sports journalism stories? Read about USA TODAY’s Scott Gleeson and FOX-5 in Atlanta’s Merissa Lynn.

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