By Karolos Grohmann
BERLIN (Reuters) - Boston joined the race to host the 2024 Olympics, instantly claiming the favorites tag as the United States look to land their first summer Games since 1996.
It is not so much what the city is offering that gives it an edge at the start of the two-year race but rather the timing of its candidacy and improved ties between U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) chiefs and the International Olympic Committee.
Germany will bid with either Hamburg or Berlin while Rome has also confirmed it will campaign for the biggest sports event in the world with a decision set for 2017.
But Boston looks to be the city to beat as it seeks to bring the Games back to the United States some 28 years since the Atlanta 96 Games, with IOC President Thomas Bach welcoming what he said was a strong candidacy.
"The Boston bid will be a strong one. Bostonians are well known for their enthusiasm for sport and the city has a great heritage in sport, science and education," Bach said on Friday.
"The bid also has the great potential to build on the strength of the athletes from the US Olympic Team - US athletes have a worldwide reputation and will be a huge asset for the bid."
Boston, the first U.S. city to bid after failed attempts by New York in 2005 for the 2012 Games and Chicago in 2009 for the 2016 Olympics, was unveiled over two-time host Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington on Thursday.
When Chicago was spectacularly eliminated in the first round of voting for the 2016 Olympics, it was the culmination of a clash between the IOC and the USOC that had been brewing on several fronts for years.
A bitter row between the two sides over an old sponsorship and television rights revenue sharing agreement that the IOC wanted to update to reflect current market conditions and the USOC opposing it had reached boiling point.
A unilateral 2009 announcement by the USOC of plans to set up an Olympic channel without consulting the IOC added further oil to the fire that led to the sensational snubbing of Chicago despite U.S. President Barack Obama's personal pitch at its session in Copenhagen.
Since then a new revenue sharing deal between the two sides has been forged, the IOC is setting up its own Olympic channel and the United States Olympic Committee has a new president with Larry Probst.
"This is a very different USOC from the one in 2009," said Stratos Safioleas, Olympics consultant for the Pyeongchang 2018 winter Games, who also worked on the Chicago candidacy.
"In the past five years USOC has worked energetically to bridge differences with the IOC, it became more internationalist in its outlook, it sought and made friends in international federations and national Olympic committees.
"This effort culminated in getting Probst elected as an IOC member. I expected that the transformation in the USOC will be reflected in the strategy of Boston's Olympic bid," said Safioleas.
The IOC has also elected a new chief with Bach replacing Jacques Rogge in 2013 and almost immediately ushering in a string of reforms aimed at making the Olympics a more attractive proposition.
Voted in last month, the changes named "Agenda 2020" make bidding easier and cheaper, reducing costs which in the past were as much as $100 million.
They also allow for greater flexibility for cities to integrate the Games into their own urban development plans rather than forcing the city to bend them to fit the Olympics.
The United States still remain the biggest cash cow for the IOC with broadcaster NBC having signed a staggering $7.65 billion deal with the IOC for North American broadcasting rights of the Games until 2032, confirming this as the single biggest source of revenue for the Olympic movement.
U.S. companies, such as General Electric, Coca-Cola, McDonald's and Procter & Gamble among other, have continued as top sponsors of the IOC, penning long-term deals and strengthening the argument for a U.S. winner for 2024.
With the 2014 Sochi winter Games drawing criticism over hosts Russia's human rights record, the IOC is eager to polish up its prime product with top bids, especially after four of six bidders for the 2022 winter Games dropped out over financial concerns or lack of public support.
"Clearly to have four leading American cities actively bidding for being the candidate shows that the concept and the product is not broken," sports marketing expert Michael Payne, former longtime IOC marketing chief, told Reuters on Friday.
"The recent reform process is also making bidding easier, simpler and better."
Boston, like most cities bidding for the Olympics these days, will need to gain wide public support for a project seen by critics as too expensive and too big for any city and with far-reaching financial, social and environmental repercussions long after the Games have come and gone.
"The big challenge Boston has got to address is the question of public support because that will make or break the bid," said Payne.
With more cities expected to join the fray until the September deadline -- including possibly Doha, Dubai, Paris, Istanbul, Budapest as well as an African bid, Boston will face stiff competition but it looks to have at least secured the inside lane at the start.
(Reporting by Karolos Grohmann, editing by Pritha Sarkar)