June 22, 2005

OK, Maybe I Do Care, Just a Little

I've been saying for some time that the race to host the 2012 summer Olympics is much less exciting than the media make it out to be.

Despite my professed lack of interest, however, I have been leaving a trail of long-winded comments everywhere I go (The Sports Economist, and a followup, SportsProf, SportsFilter). I'm forced to conclude that I do care, at least about some aspects of this debate.

Let's talk about hosting, then.

IOC Evaluation Commission Report

On June 6, the IOC released the Evaluation Commission report on the five candidate cities. I didn't read it, myself, since I was still pretending not to care, but it quickly set a record for the most downloaded IOC document ever. You might want to get in on the action.

I still don't think that the report has more than a tiny influence on the voting, mind you.

NYC2012 Scrambling for Plan B

There have been some amusing developments in New York, where the proposed Manhattan stadium has been shot down by the state government. That's forced the organizers to go to plan B, which is a stadium in Queens. You can see two slightly different perspectives on these events at the Telegraph and the New York Post.

None of this changes my opinion that New York is going to lose, and lose badly, and would have lost badly even with their original plan. Barring something strange happening, like a sudden upwelling of support for Africa, the US is a shoo-in for 2016. But they never had a chance against Paris and London for 2012.

Since the original stadium plan has fallen through, I'll probably never know whether this assertion is true or not. The guys over at NewYorkGames.org don't have that problem, although they're being pretty restrained with their I-told-you-so's. If you're interested in knowing more about what went wrong with NYC2012, it's the place to go.

So, Is Hosting a Good Idea, Or Not?

Well, according to the IOC, every Olympic games since 1976 has made a profit. Even the 2004 version in Greece. I know what you're thinking — that can't be right, can it? Well, you've got to read the fine print; the Athens organizing committee made a profit, but the Greek government lost its shirt.

That's how it generally works, in a nutshell. Governments shell out the big dollars for venue and infrastructure construction, and National Olympic Committees (and the IOC) collect the guaranteed revenues from TV rights, sponsorship, and ticket sales. Whether this is good for your average citizen or not is a matter of some debate. Of course, the answer will depend on just how much public money is being spent, and how.

Too Big?

The IOC has been worrying about the size and scope of the Games for about a hundred years:

"It would be very unfortunate, if the often exaggerated expenses incurred for the most recent Olympiads, a sizeable part of which represented the construction of permanent buildings, which were moreover unnecessary - temporary structures would fully suffice, and the only consequence is to then encourage use of these permanent buildings by increasing the number of occasions to draw in the crowds - it would be very unfortunate if these expenses were to deter (small) countries from putting themselves forward to host the Olympic Games in the future."

— Pierre de Coubertin, April 1911

There's little doubt that Olympic hosting is much more expensive than it really needs to be. Some solutions to the problem would be fairly simple. For the World Games, for example, hosts are required to use existing venues. The size of the Games is a common topic of discussion within the IOC. In 2003 the Olympic Games Study Commission released a report (PDF) on the size and scope of the Games and how they might be streamlined.

On the other hand, it's not entirely clear that the current situation is really the IOC's fault. I can't really blame the IOC for wanting to have the most spectacular and glamourous Olympics possible. After all, more spectacle means bigger audiences and more money. And clearly there are still governments out there that are eager to foot the bill. Do we really expect the IOC to turn them away? If anything, there seem to be more and more countries eager to play host, so I don't think we are going to see a scaling back any time soon.

Hosting and Performance

I haven't run a "left-brain special" here for a while, and I have one almost ready to go. This one looks at the long-term impact of hosting the Summer and Winter Olympics, from a performance perspective. But that is still a story for another day.


Ratch said...

Dear Lefty
Great stuff as usual. You knew NY was in trouble when it showed up on an episode of Apprentice. Donald Trump's cronie political buddies were desperatley trying to market where there was no beef on the bun. Here is a wild idea to send off to your IOC buddies lefty....how about 3 Olympics in 4 years and the 4th year is World Cup Soccer. There can be a Winter, Summer and the Team Olympics. Any sport that requires a pitch or a stadium and fields more than a dozen players. This is a right sided wild concept but I need my lefty analytical friends to systematically do the pros and cons of such a change.

Amateur said...

I like the idea -- and the IOC should like it, too, since it means even more hosting frenzies!

I'll see if I can come up with something on this subject. The IOC programme commission report should come in handy.