Photo courtesy of ComNetworkBoston

Tuesday at the NonProfit Center, ComNetworkBoston held its first event in the city called “Communications Lessons from Boston’s Olympic Bid,” moderated by Lauren Dezenski of Politico Massachusetts (and formerly of the Dorchester Reporter). The panel was comprised of experts who either supported the bid, worked to scuttle it, or monitored public sentiment about it.

Panelists on both sides of the Olympics issue made it clear that their beliefs and biases were cemented early on. Chris Dempsey of No Boston Olympics and Robin Jacks of NoBoston2024 felt strongly that cost overruns were inevitable and that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is a flawed and corrupt organization that routinely looks the other way when dealing with countries that are well-documented violators of human and minority rights. Eric Reddy of the Boston 2024 Organizing Committee, on the other hand, viewed the games as an opportunity to showcase our great city and to facilitate much-needed infrastructure improvements (hello, MBTA).

The Olympic bid was tailor-made for the media, which, as Dempsey understood early on, “loves conflict.” It’s even more compelling when you have strong spokespeople on both sides.

For Dempsey and Jacks, the lesson learned was to work with those that may not have the same tactics, but do have the same goals. No Boston Olympics was the more conciliatory group that worked political channels and the established networks of power. NoBoston2024 was the more aggressive force, favoring guerilla marketing tactics like those utilized by the Occupy Wall Street movement.

To make the story even more compelling, the public was split down the middle on whether the Olympics would be a good thing for Boston—at least initially. Steve Koczela of the MassINC Polling Group pointed out that half the public was against and half the public was for the Games in the first poll. However, that poll would be the high-water mark. Public support would only go down from there.

For the 2024 Organizing Committee, the 24/7 coverage of all things Olympics was a blessing and a curse. According to Reddy, the Boston bid was the “highest profile start-up in the city’s history,” regularly receiving front-page coverage. While publicity  wasn’t the issue, the question of public-funding was. In fact, it would be the issue that would eventually sink the Games’ chances of landing in the Hub.

No matter how well messaged they were, the pro-Olympics forces simply couldn’t make the case to a skeptical public with memories of the Big Dig looming large. On top of that, the IOC would not accept Boston’s bid without a guarantee from city officials that taxpayers would cover any cost overruns. That was very different than what Boston 2024 had been saying from the beginning.

Dempsey believes  the anti-Olympic movement was so potent because they brought many groups into the fold. For instance, the local Tea Party faction of the Republican Party was an ally. Conversely, Reddy admits they could have aligned themselves with more like-minded groups and organizations. He insists support for the games was there, even if it wasn’t obvious in the mainstream media or online.

Dempsey brushed off comparisons between the Olympics and the well-established Boston Marathon in envisioning how well prepared the city and region would be to host the games one day. “Events like these are better when they smart small and build gradually, rather than trying to be all things to all people.”

To watch the full panel, click here.