Elise Amendola, AP Photo

Cost of hosting another Olympics in Utah rising as coronavirus adds to risks

By Lisa Riley Roche, KSL | Posted - Oct. 22, 2020 at 8:18 a.m.



SALT LAKE CITY — The price tag for hosting another Olympics in Utah is going to be higher than the $1.35 billion estimate released two years ago, according to leaders of the effort to bring another Winter Games to the state as soon as 2030.

Just how much more is still being worked out, although inflation alone would add $400 million to the bottom line for the 2030 Winter Games and nearly $500 million for the next Winter Games four years later, Fraser Bullock, president and CEO of the Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games, told KSL on Wednesday.

Also being added are new expenses related to the impact of the global coronavirus pandemic, said Bullock, the chief operating officer of the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City. Those expenses include "substantially" boosting the $60 million contingency fund, he said.

"The world has completely changed," Bullock said. "So now with the risk that we face with pandemics, it just raises the notion we need to be prepared for anything."

Salt Lake City is still waiting to hear from the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee about which future Winter Games they'll bid for — 2030, 2034 or beyond. The city was selected in December 2018 over Denver to bid on behalf of the United States for an unspecified future Winter Games.

"We remain ready, willing and able, and I would add that we're eager at this point. You know, we've all been chomping at the bit to be able to get moving forward, to be able to really bring the Games back," Cindy Crane, the committee's chairwoman, told reporters at a news conference held after a meeting of the bid's governing board.

At least three other cities around the world are competing with Salt Lake City for a Winter Games — Sapporo, Japan; Barcelona and the Pyrenees Mountain region in Spain; and Vancouver, Canada — Bullock said at the news conference.

Discussions about Salt Lake City have picked up with U.S. and international Olympic officials, he said, even though they are dealing with the repercussions of postponing the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo until next year due to COVID-19. Japanese organizers are having to cut nearly $300 million from their budget, Bullock said.

One of the reasons for trying to host another Olympics in Utah is to "once again generate significant economic impact. Last time it was $4 billion. That's the estimate that it could be again. We want to see our community continue to rise economically, particularly as we have some concerns at this point in time," he said.

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Although there were risks associated with the 2002 Winter Games, the first major international event held after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks against the United States, Bullock said "risk is now a capital 'R' and we need to look at every element to make sure we protect the state and the communities from any financial obligation."

The Olympics are privately funded largely through corporate sponsorships and ticket sales, but governments must provide the International Olympic Committee that awards the Games with some sort of guarantee any shortfalls will be covered.

The budget for another Salt Lake City Olympics is on its 35th draft, Bullock said.

"It keeps getting better. We're feeling more and more comfortable with it on the expense side. There's a couple of areas that we're still looking at. On the revenue side, there's more uncertainty," especially since many sponsor contracts with the International Olympic Committee expire before 2030.

Later, Bullock detailed in an interview that the $60 million contingency fund in the budget prepared in 2018 as Utah leaders were deciding whether to back another bid will have to be increased "substantially," but he wasn't ready to talk about how much more would need to be set aside.

Also, what would amount to $4 million today to pay for cancellation or postponement insurance will likely fall far short after the Tokyo Olympics were delayed, he said, adding that organizers of the 2002 Winter Games spent about $2.5 million on a cancellation policy that would have provided $150 million.

Plus there needs to be a boost in the $63 million built into the budget for maintaining the state's Olympic facilities, which include the bobsled, luge and skeleton track and ski jumps at the Utah Winter Sports Park near Park City, as well as to help fund the Utah Sports Commission, post-Games, Bullock said.

He described the 2018 estimate, which came in lower than the cost of the 2002 Winter Games, as an attempt to "see how efficient we could be with our budget."

The governing board's virtual meeting was closed to the public Wednesday, but the full committee's meetings are open. There may be an update on the budget at their first meeting since February, expected to be held sometime next month.

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Lisa Riley Roche

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