Pyeongchang, South Korea, built a brand new Olympic stadium to host the Winter Games this year. The 35,000-seat stadium cost $109 million to build. And it will be used just four times before it’s demolished.
The cost of the stadium will come out to an astonishing $10 million per hour of use, according to Judith Grant-Long, a scholar of sports at the University of Michigan.
The 2004 Games garnered bids from 12 cities around the world. For the 2020 Games, the pool shrank to five bidders. Then the 2022 Winter Olympics and 2024 Summer Olympics managed to get only two bidders each.
In fact, for the 2024 Games, the International Olympic Committee decided to do something unprecedented: Instead of choosing between the only two bidders, Paris and Los Angeles, it decided to award Paris the 2024 Summer Olympics and give Los Angeles the 2028 Summer Olympics. Experts say the IOC decided to give them out at the same time for a simple reason — it was afraid no city would want to host the tournament by the time the 2028 bidding started.
Wikipedia says that there are fewer than 3,000 athletes that absolutely needed to gather at the 2018 Olympics. You could house them all, plus coaches, in a medium-sized university’s dormitories (adjust the academic calendar to give the students three weeks off!).
How about the spectators? There are a lot more people who want to signal their virtue by attending Hamilton than can fit into the current theater. Do the producers build a $200 million monster venue? No. They show their commitment to social justice by raising ticket prices to $1,150 per seat (Variety) and have a small, but satisfying, gathering of the righteous.
Let’s consider security:
After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the cost of security at the Olympics skyrocketed. The first Summer Olympics held after the attacks were the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece. Those games cost more than $15 billion, and a big part of that was because the city spent tons of money trying to protect the games from a potential terrorist attack.
Sanderson says that post-9/11 security “adds between $2 and 5 billion to the price tag to start with.”
If Olympic ticket prices were tripled so that small venues were not overloaded, fewer people would show up and therefore fewer people would need to be screened.
[Separately, note the drag on economic growth; a world that spends $5 billion on security screening is precluded from spending that $5 billion on machine tools, education, etc.]
Since it is mainly a TV event, what would be wrong with using pricing to keep the Olympics gathering to a manageable size?
Readers: What have you enjoyed most about these Olympics? I began to appreciate curling for the first time, though the kids ran out of patience after about 30 minutes. And it is fun to have a 4-year-old demand fast-forward when half-pipe competition is being shown (“I don’t like back-and-forth”).