Olympic Costs Explode
It’s no revelation that the Olympics have become an increasingly extravagant event, with costs and revenues ballooning in tandem to the games’ size and importance as a signal for the host country’s own wealth and status. But it’s less well known how this came to be. James McBride explains the economics of hosting the Olympics.
The 1970s marked a turning point, writes Andrew Zimbalist, author of Circus Maximus: The Economic Gamble Behind Hosting the Olympics and the World Cup. The games were growing rapidly, with the number of Summer Olympics participants almost doubling and the number of events increasing by a third during the 1960s. Every Olympics since 1960 has seen major cost overruns (PDF). The killing of protestors in the days before the 1968 Mexico City Games and the fatal assault on Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Games tarnished the image of the Olympics, and public skepticism of taking on debt to host the games also grew. In 1972, Denver became the first and only chosen host city to reject its Olympics after voters passed a referendum refusing additional public spending for the games.
The 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal came to symbolize the fiscal risks of hosting. The projected cost of $124 million was more than $2.6 billion short of the actual cost, largely due to the construction delays and cost overruns of a new stadium, saddling the city’s taxpayers with billions of dollars of debt that took nearly three decades to pay off.
As a result, in 1979 Los Angeles was the only city to bid for the 1984 Summer Olympics, allowing it to negotiate exceptionally favorable terms with the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Most importantly, L.A. was able to rely almost totally on existing stadiums and other infrastructure rather than promise lavish new facilities to entice the IOC selection committee. That, combined with a sharp jump in television broadcast revenue (see graphic) made L.A. the only city to turn a profit on hosting the Olympics, finishing with a $215 million operating surplus.
Eric Farnsworth on the economics of the Olympics
The Cost of the Olympics
“For athletes, the Olympics are the ultimate test of their worth.” – Mary Lou Retton
“If you fail to prepare, you’re prepared to fail.” – Mark Spitz
“If you don’t have confidence, you’ll always find a way not to win.” – Carl Lewis
“Never underestimate the power of dreams and the influence of the human spirit. We are all the same in this notion: The potential for greatness lives within each of us.” – Wilma Rudolph
“One word: ‘Fight.’ Anyone can do it when it feels good. When you’re hurting, that’s when it makes a difference, so you have to keep fighting.” – Erin Cafaro
“‘My competition isn’t resting!’” –Kim Rhode
“When anyone tells me I can’t do anything, I’m just not listening anymore.” –Florence Griffith Joyner