The Monetary Power of the Olympic Games

Features - February 1st, 2008
Gold medal

Can the Games bring gold to their hosts as well?

by Danielle Tate-Stratton

Generally, athletes are seen as the undisputed stars of the Olympic Games. From the major stars such as the winners of the men’s 100m sprint or women’s figure skating, to the feel-good crowd favorites such as the infamous Jamaican bobsled team of 1988, most of us watch to cheer for our favorite country or athlete. There are, however, hundreds of people who work incredibly hard for many years to ensure that one other star shines brightly over the course of the Games—that of the host city. Olympic committees hope that the Olympics will bring attention, longterm growth and industry, and, perhaps most importantly, money to their city and, as an extension, country.

Bid cities must show the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and their local governments that the citizens near the Games support the bid and one of the techniques they use to gain popular support is the promise of future riches for the city. Promises of Games that will come in, on, or under budget are first and foremost, followed closely by the suggestion of a profit. Unfortunately, budgets don’t always go as planned, and not all cities come out ahead.

Notably, the 1976 summer Olympics held in Montreal seem to be remembered best for two things—Nadia Comaneci’s perfect 10—the first ever in the sport of gymnastics—and the city’s rather hefty post-game deficit, especially where the main stadium was concerned. After famously saying, “The Olympics can no more have a deficit than a man can have a baby,” then-mayor Jean Drapeau watched as the main, 56,040-seat, stadium’s cost rose from its $134 million budget to a cost of $264 million by the time it opened. In total, once repairs, inflation, renovations, etc. have been factored in, the “Big Owe,” as it is locally known, will have cost Montreal $1.6 billion and was only paid off, thanks to years of heavy tobacco taxes, in late 2006.

Fast-forward to 1984, when Los Angeles held the summer games and, presumably worried about a repeat, the people of LA voted against paying for the event with taxpayer dollars. This meant the beginning of the corporately-funded Games and thanks to shrewd use of existing facilities and the support of title sponsors such as 7-Eleven, the Games concluded with a $200 million profi t and the legacy of being the most financially successful Games in history.

For other countries and host cities, the benefits resulting from hosting the Games are not merely economic. For instance, Beijing, set to host in 2008, is treating its Olympics as a big coming out party. China’s national government is spending billions not only on new stadiums and parks but also programs to improve the manners of Beijing’s citizenry, teach English and other world-languages to hospitality workers, and generally prepare China to put its best face forward as the entire world looks to see how the rapidly emerging  super-power has developed. Besides making short-term developments for the games, such as the innovative ‘Bird’s Nest’ main stadium and futuristic aquatics complex, the Chinese Olympic Committee is also making a concerted effort to lower pollution in the city (a must if the IOC is to allow some of the outdoor events to occur) by moving a huge steel manufacturing plant out of the city, expanding the subway system, and building a huge Olympic park, big enough to affect Beijing’s micro-climate and act as a noticeable carbon sink for years to come.

Looking ahead, Tokyo is hoping to host the 2016 Summer Olympics August 12–28 of that year. Having already hosted a successful Games in 1964, Tokyo’s Bid Committee is hoping to beat out competition that includes Rio de Janeiro and Madrid when the IOC announces their decision in 2009. With a bid budget of between ¥5.5 and ¥7 billion, it is not an inexpensive undertaking to convince the world that Tokyo is ready to host once again. Funding for the bid will be split between the Tokyo Metropolitan Government (¥1.5 billion) and the private sector.

The Bid Committee is campaigning on the basis of Tokyo 2016 being the most compact and efficient Olympics to date. With plans to reutilize many of Tokyo’s’ 64 venues such as the stadium in Komazawa Olympic Park and the Yoyogi National Gymnasium in Yoyogi Koen very little new construction or land acquisition would be needed. For instance, for a Games occurring in 2016, Tokyo would be building only two new venues, echoing the successful model  of LA. Additionally, Tokyo boasts a strong transportation network which bid organizers contend would easily be able to accommodate the additional traffic seen by the Games. The Tokyo Olympics would be the most compact ever, with all but two sports (soccer [qualifying games] and sailing) as well as the Olympic Village and Media Center being located within a ten-kilometer radius, or within approximately 20-minutes traveling time. The new venues, including a Tadao Ando designed stadium, are expected to be built on reclaimed waterfront land on Tokyo Bay, helping to continue the revitalization project started in areas such as Odaiba.

Thanks to existing infrastructure and already in-the-works improvements to the city’s transportation networks including three ring- roads designed to help alleviate congestion, Tokyo looks as though it could follow Los Angeles’ highly successful model by taking advantage of a large city used to millions of people as well as existing venues to minimize costs and transportation loads. If it is able to do that, Tokyo could well follow in the footsteps of past Games such as Los Angeles (summer, 1984), Calgary (winter, 1988), or Atlanta (summer, 2006), all of which broke even or posted a profit once the Olympic Flame was extinguished.