Do The Olympics Ever Break Even?

Do The Olympics Ever Break Even?

All the medals have been won, all the puppies taken home. The Winter Games are over. But the end of the Olympics is just the beginning of the story for Sochi, which now has the unenviable task of putting itself back on track after three years of rushed development.

Russia spent $US51 billion on these games — a record-breaking sum that bested the last Winter Games host, Vancouver, by more than $US40 billion. There were the venues, the roads, the hotels, the roads — the amount of investment was incredible. But was it worth it? Russia hopes so. The idea is that Sochi will become a tourism magnet thanks to its newfound notoriety. But given that the city is in a relatively remote location, it seems unlikely that hoards of tourists will descend upon it simply to see the venues. Some of the venues — like Fisht Stadium — were designed to be downsized into smaller, more usable spaces. Others were not.

Only time will tell if Sochi will emerge as a bustling tourism hub. But how have other recent host cities fared? We took a look below.


AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis.

London is actually still in the arduous process of converting its Olympic Village into a mixed-use development, which will eventually include everything from two schools to 22 miles of footpaths — as well as 8000 new homes and a bustling shopping center. The former Olympic stadium, which sat 80,000 people, was downsized to seat 60,000 as a football arena for West Ham.

Final tally: In the end, London spent $US10.4 billion on the games, but reported (PDF) a profit of $US87 million in March of 2013. Which is small — but better than losing cash, nonetheless.


Photo by Feng Li/Getty Images.

Beijing’s had a hard time reintegrating its sprawling Olympic park with the rest of the city. NPR reports that many of the former Olympic venues sit empty and abandoned today — though one notable bright spot is the aquatic Water Cube, which was converted into the Happy Magic Water Park after the games:

Final tally: Beijing spent $US44 billion on the Games, but reported a $US146 million profit in 2009.


Turin’s Isozaki Palaolimpico building in 2007. AP Photo/Massimo Pinca.

Though Turin, like Sochi, was a lesser-known city before it hosted the Winter Olympics, it’s boomed in the time since — tourism has increased and the former venues are reportedly still in use.

Final tally: Despite that, Turin was still over budget by more than $US3 billion, with a loss of $US3.2 million.


AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis

Athens represents the great fear of other host cities. The city went almost $US10 billion over its budget for the Games — and that was in 2003! — and just about all of its Olympic venues lie unused today, a blight on a struggling city.

Final tally: Athens accrued $US14 billion in debt from the games — and some economists even suggest that the massive cost overruns sparked the financial crisis that Greece is still dealing with today.

So, financially speaking, it’s a mixed bag. Losses have increased over the past two decades — and even when cities have broken even or profited, questions about the urban legacy of these sprawling venues have lingered.

On the other hand, it’s also possible to argue that it’s impossible to quantify the value of the Olympics in monetary terms — they are a long-term investment in a city’s future. Let us know what you think in the comments.

Lead image: AP Photo/Matt Slocum.