Wouldn't it be awesome to host an Olympics? That's the thought process of many cities out there, but when you sit down and look at the cost you may be amazed that so many cities are constantly vying for the opportunity.
Below we'll cover 16 of the more impactful Olympic events, and you may be amazed at how the vast majority ended up running ridiculously over budget. If that wasn't bad enough, many of the games had significant long-term implications for the area, including one city that took 30 years to pay off the debt. While some cities below will be highlighted for their smart decision making, it will become clear that you won't be able to host the Olympics for cheap.
One of the main costs that goes into the Olympics is the amount of money that gets put into new infrastructure. Major transportation projects make up 33% of all budget overruns, while major IT projects make up 27%.
Spending money can be an intimidating thing, but as one Salt Lake City official put it, the work was going to have to be done anyway, the Olympics just gave them a more focused path on how to spend their money. Rio de Janeiro will also be highlighted below, but perhaps you'll view the Olympics in a whole new light when you learn just how many nations have struggled with the honor of hosting the world.
Are you following the Olympics or know someone who is on social media? Feel free to share the list!
16 2010 Winter Olympics - Vancouver, Canada
In 2010, Vancouver nearly beat out Pyeongchang, South Korea for the chance to host the Winter Games. Vancouver had budgeted the games at $1.7 billion, but things didn’t work out that way and the project ended up costing $6.4 billion. Of this, $2.3 billion came from taxpayer contribution.
On a positive note, 45,000 jobs were created for the Olympics and an additional $463 million for the tourism industry, and overall the city gained roughly $1.22 billion for their participation in the games. This sounds exciting, at least until you hear that their Premier Gordon Campbell had claimed it’d bring in $10 billion!
Part of where Vancouver went off-budget was in terms of security. What was once estimated to cost $200 million, ended up being a $1 billion expense. Several local venues, like BC Place, received a $150 million upgrade.
While Canada had never won a gold medal when they were the host city, Vancouver marked a huge change for that. Not only did Canada win a gold medal, they took home fourteen, which was more than any nation.
15 2002 Winter Olympics - Salt Late City, United States
While Salt Lake City had been chosen back in 1995 to host the games, you can imagine they had a particularly patriotic feeling after the devastating 9/11 attacks.
The games were larger than any previous Olympics, adding an additional 10 events in comparison to the 1998 games in Nagano, Japan. It was also the most-watched Olympics of all time, bringing in over 2 billion viewers who registered over 13 billion hours watched.
As a result, while the games had a budget of $2 billion, they ended up costing only $1.2 billion ($600 million of which, was publicly funded). The games overall brought a surplus of $101 million. The University of Utah also had roughly $110 million spent on upgrading the campus, as it was to serve as accommodation for the athletes. These houses are currently used by students but were also re-used by the U.S. team during the 2010 Olympic games.
SLC also continues to make use of the improvements that it enacted on the city in helping get ready for the games. The most prominent example may be the TRAX rail, which is used by 37% of locals on a daily basis.
It’s great that the games were such a huge success, especially because in 1998 it was revealed that several IOC members had accepted bribes to give the games to Salt Lake City; who had beaten out Östersund in Sweden, Québec City and Sion in Switzerland.
14 2000 Summer Olympics - Sydney, Australia
If you’re going to spend some serious coin to make your city Olympic friendly, you need to hope that you’re going to at least get some positive press out of the matter. Sydney forked over $6.6 billion (Australian), which was 108% over budget, but the games were a huge success. So much so, that one reporter wrote “IOC should quit while it's ahead. Admit there can never be a better Olympic Games, and be done with it."
When it came to funding the games, roughly A$1.7-$2.4 billion was paid for by the public. Part of the cost went to new infrastructure, but sadly in the years following the games, many of the venues were unable to maintain the upkeep expenses. The Sydney Olympic Park Authority was enacted on July 1st, 2001, to try and rejuvenate an active and vibrant feel to the park and community, but has failed to have a significant impact.
Australia had a fairly successful Olympics, as they and China tied for the 3rd most overall with 58 (Russia was 2nd with 89 and America was #1 with 93).
13 2006 Winter Olympics - Torino, Italy
It was clear that Torino was going to need to put in quite a bit of work to make sure they were ready to host the Winter Olympics in 2006. The city ended up needing to construct a total of 65 different facilities, ranging from different infrastructures to sports villages that cost the city €1.7 billion (euros).
The city upgraded 11 of the main state roads and also constructed an underground urban railway. The hope was that this would bring new life to once abandoned industrial areas. The city ended up spending roughly $4.1 billion (USD), overrunning their planned budget by 113%. Unlike most host nations, Italy did not disclose the amount that was spent on public costs (such as road, rail, hotel upgrades or other local improvements) and instead only announced how much they spent on sports-related costs.
Construction on the sports venues ran from 2002 to 2005, and a grand total of fifteen different venues were used (with some of them being upgrades to previous venues).
The most prominent venue construction was the Cesana Pariol, which cost €85.78 million. Italy came away with 11 medals (5 gold, 6 bronze), which was the 9th best result.
12 1988 Winter Olympics - Calgary, Canada
It was announced back in July that Calgary is officially going to explore a potential Winter Olympics bid for 2026. I guess that means they really didn’t mind that they went 131% over budget when they got the chance to host the Winter Games back in 1988. The Olympics cost roughly $829 million (CAD) to host, but it is largely responsible for helping create an economic boom to the area that had fallen into a recession. Roughly $1.4 billion was created in economic benefits and the games generated 11,100 man-years of employment while generating $450 million in salaries and wages.
While the games were incredibly expensive, technology was also starting to grow at a rapid rate by 1988 and television as well as sponsorships helped turn an overall net surplus for the city. While the 1980 games at Lake Placid (which is below) only brought in $20.7 million in television revenue, Calgary generated $324.9 million in broadcast rights. American Broadcasting Company (ABC) in particular was a large reason for this, paying $309 million which was dramatically more than the $91.5 million they paid Sarajevo for the rights. You’re right if you’re thinking that seems like way too much money, and it was estimated that ABC lost roughly $60 million on their investment.
The city did build 5 sports venues, but they still continue to be used to their original functions, which is really all you can hope for.
But that doesn’t mean that we can ignore that the city ran into some complications when it came to building them that brought up the overall cost. The Olympic Saddledome was supposed to cost an estimated $83 million but ended up costing more than $100 million. One of the alpine skiing facilities was paid by the province to the tune of $25 million, and two facilities that were built and funded 90% by Alberta cost $17.3 million.
The city also gained prominence as more than 22,000 people signed up to be volunteers for the games and many local residents opened up their homes to people who could not find a hotel through the “Homestay” program.
Sadly despite being the host nation, Canada was unable to take home a gold medal.
11 1984 Summer Olympics - Los Angeles, United States
When Los Angeles got awarded the Olympics in 1984, there had not been a ‘profitable Olympics’ for the host city since 1932, when perhaps fittingly, LA had brought in roughly $1 million in profits. The IOC (International Olympic Committee) was also coming off the heels of the colossal failure in Montreal (which is lower on our list) and as a result, Los Angeles were the only bidders for these games. The organizers were insistent on keeping costs low and overall, only spent $546 million on the games.
This low operating cost is why when the games brought in a revenue of $232 million, it ended up becoming one of the most profitable Olympic Games in history.
The games were not without controversy, as following the American-led boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics which were held in Moscow, 14 Eastern Bloc countries elected not to attend the games. While the city used thirty-one different sports venues for the event, only two were completely new constructions and they were both paid through corporate sponsorship. Despite this, 140 different nations and 6,829 different athletes participated in the games.
America dominated the games, winning 174 medals (83 gold, 61 silver and 30 bronze). To put this in context, the next two nations, Romania and Germany, combined for 112 medals.
10 2012 Summer Games - London, UK
When we tell you that the Olympic stadium in London was converted into a football venue, you may think that’s a really exciting thing. Except it still cost the city $90 million (USD) to do, proving that even if you’re trying to be smart, it’s going to cost you a pretty penny.
The 2012 London games ended up going 133% over budget, with the main infrastructure being the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park which required 80,000 workers to complete. They were able to save some money by using some venues that existed prior to the selection, which may explain how they got the bid over Havana, Istanbul, Madrid, Paris, Rio Moscow, Leipzig and New York City.
While the city originally scored poorly on public transportation, a £25 million cable car system was created to help link together the different Olympic venues. In order to help make traveling easier for athletes and other Olympic VIP members, special “Olympic Lanes” were created around the city. Non-Olympian individuals would be subject to a fine if caught driving in these lanes.
While the original budget was £2.4 billion, it ended up increasing to £9.3 billion by the time 2007 rolled around. £5.3 billion was put into building venues, £1.7 for regeneration of the Lower Lea Valley and £600 million on security. Given the London Bombings in July 2005 that killed 56 people, came only 1 day after the Olympic bid was announced, you can understand why they beefed up security.
9 1992 Winter Olympics - Albertville, France
This isn’t the last time France makes this list, but when you spend $1.2 billion (USD) on infrastructure, it's not surprising to go 169% over your expected budget. Thirteen different venues were used for the events, with most of them being made between 1987 and the middle of 1990.
The games mark their place in history by being the last Olympics to feature an outdoor speed skating ring.When you learn that three of the 10 outdoor skating events were impacted because of the weather, you can understand why future host cities were not as big a fan of outdoor events.
The city largely got behind the idea for the Olympics after it was suggested by the French Olympic hero Jean-Claude Killy, who you’ll learn more about below. As is the case with several of the games, the ceremonial stadium that was created was removed following the Olympics. One of the venues that the city created for the games is still used annually for the FIS Alpine Ski World Cup, so at least it has that going for it.
These were also the last winter games until 2014 to feature curling, aerials, ski ballet and speed skating.
8 1996 Summer Olympics - Atlanta, Georgia
When Atlanta opened their doors to the world in 1996, a record-setting 197 nations and 10,320 athletes agreed to come and take part. These games were the first in Olympic history to be held in a separate year than the Winter games. So you can understand the pressure was on, but it’s still never ideal to go 178% over your expected budget.
The city ended up spending roughly $5.14 billion on the games. One of the main results of the Olympics was the conversion of Centennial Olympic Stadium into Turner Field which was used by the Braves from 1997 to 2016.
Another visual impact of the games may best be seen by the Centennial Olympic Park, which sits in downtown Atlanta and hosts millions of visitors a year, though it did originally cost $28 million.
Sadly, the park was the scene of tragedy when during the Olympics, Eric Robert Rudolph set off a bomb that killed 1 person and injured 111 others. Roughly $500 million of taxpayer money was used to help improve public transportation, the expansion of the airport, road improvements as well as redeveloped public housing projects.
The actual games itself was paid for through commercial sponsorship and ticket sales, and the city ended up profiting $10 million.
7 1968 Winter Olympics - Grenoble, France
The 1968 games made Olympic history for being the first year that the IOC ordered drug and gender testing. It was also the first year to have a mascot, although it wasn’t an official mascot. Considering how big of a deal performance enhancing drugs are, you can understand why the Olympics are of incredible historic importance. Sadly, while that’s a nice positive, the negative is that the games ran 230% over the expected budget.
A big reason behind this was because the president, Charles de Gaulle wanted to use these games as a chance to show the world a more modern France. Roughly $1.1 billion Francs was spent on the games with 47.08% coming from the government.
₣465.181 million was put into the infrastructure of transport and communications, another ₣250.87 million went into the Olympic village, ₣ 96.116 million on infrastructure and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
A new airport, new town hall, new police station and fire station, were all built, which as you can imagine were not cheap.
The highlight for France may have come when Jean-Claude Killy (on the left in the photo) took home a gold medal in the downhill skiing event. Killy also received gold medals in two other Slope events, but not without controversy. In one of the events, Karl Schranz (another top-level skier) claimed that a mysterious man in black crossed his path and as a result, he had to stop during his race. As a result, he was allowed to ski again and he beat Killy’s time. Unfortunately for him, the Jury of Appeal disqualified Schranz. Imagine that scenario in 2016. No way something like that wouldn’t have been caught on camera.
6 1994 Winter Olympics - Lillehammer, Norway
Like many countries on this list, Norway had unsuccessfully bid for the 1992 event before winning their bid to host the 1994 Olympics. This marks the only winter games that were held only 2 years after the previous Olympics.
Norway was the 2nd most successful country at the games, capturing 26 medals (10 gold, 11 silver and 5 bronze). While not as extreme as the ones that round out the top of our list, Norway still went 347% above budget.
The games ended up costing $7.4 billion Norwegian krone (NOK), $4.48 billion went for operations and event expenses and a following $1.67 billion was used in various investments. This was also the first time in Olympic history that environment and sustainability issues were factored in. This led to 5 venues getting modified, and while that’s overall a positive thing, you can understand it was not cheap.
5 1980 Winter Olympics - Lake Placid, United States
It was only Lake Placid that made the bid to host the 1980 Olympics, but considering they also put in bids in 1960, 1968, 1972 and 1976, you have to imagine it was only going to be a matter of time. Placid had first hosted the games back in 1932, so for the 1980 games, the main cost was going to be adding modern renovations to the 8 venues that were used for the games.
Overall the city ended up going 502% over their budget, partially due to the construction delays that happened after the steel contractor went bankrupt. It was reported that the estimated budget was $49 million, and the games cost the city roughly $8.5 million.
There was also a new refrigeration system that was constructed for the bob and luge track, as well as the creation of a new luge track. The city also faced criticism for their poorly planned transportation, as well as awful conditions in Olympic village.
The games also had the brilliant idea of only selling certain tickets in areas, where you had to have already bought a ticket to enter. As a result, the games were undersold and you can understand that this also hurt the city's income.
The highlight of the games may be Eric Heiden, who won 5 gold medals at the speed skating oval and of course, the iconic “Miracle On Ice” game between America and the Soviets.
4 1976 Summer Olympics - Montreal, Canada
In May 1970 the city of Montreal won the rights to host the 1976 Olympics beating out Moscow and Los Angeles. But as you can imagine because of their high spot on this list, they were probably wishing they never got the call. It was reported that the city went 1266% above the expected budget, yikes.
The Olympic games had several problems, perhaps most prominently The Olympic Stadium; nicknamed “The Big O” that ended up costing the city $1.61 billion. If that wasn’t outrageous enough, the stadium failed to have its retractable roof work correctly and currently does not have a ‘tenant’ after the Expos left in 2004.
When it became clear in 1975 that construction was falling behind, the Quebec provincial government stepped in to finish the job, which helped explain how the overall debt for the city got to $2.8 billion. You can imagine the public was less than pleased when it was announced that it was the city that would be paying in full for the expenditure. It ended up taking the city 30 years to finally pay off the cost of hosting the Olympics. Their original estimation was only $124 million.
In terms of the games itself, Canada was unable to capture a gold medals at the event but did take home 5 silver medals and 6 bronze medals.
3 1992 Summer Olympics - Barcelona, Spain
One of the main reasons behind Barcelona making their bid for the 1992 Olympics, was that they wanted to be able to start on their ambitious urban plan. Barcelona spent $11.4 billion to help transform their city into being ready for the Olympics. To put this in context, the average Summer Olympics (as of 2009) typically cost $5.7 billion and overran their budget by 609%.
Hard to say it wasn’t at least partially worth it, as the games helped turn Barcelona into one of the most popular tourist attractions in Europe.
Among the different venues that were built for the games, hotels in the area were refurbished as was the local airport. The city also created ring roads around the city which played a huge role in helping reduce the quality of traffic in the city.
Spain was able to take home 13 gold medals, 7 silver medals, and 2 bronze medals at the games.
2 2014 Winter Olympics - Sochi, Russia
Russia must have been ecstatic to get to host the Olympics. In fact, it was the first time they were getting to host since the Soviet Union split in 1991. But when you hear that their budget was $12 billion, and they spent $51 billion, you may agree with me when I say things got out of hand. It was the most expensive Olympics in history, which meant there were several controversies going into the games about the overall cost.
The Deputy Prime Minster, Dmitry Kozak estimated that it cost Russia around 214 billion rubles ($6 billion USD) to construct the sports infrastructure, of which 100 billion rubles were taken from the national budget with the remainder being paid by private investors.
Russia ended up building 424 new facilities, but because the surrounding infrastructure in Krasnodar was so bad, only 13 of the facilities were built for sports-related Olympic events.
Things aren’t all bad for Russia, in the years following Russia has grown tremendously in regards to brand and commercial exposure. One of the main partners with the Olympics, Coca-Cola has seen a 9% growth in Russia after the Olympics. The local mobile network operator, MegaFon is also confident that its brand will grow tremendously after it was largely advertised during the Olympics.
It may take a while for all of the profits to turn in, especially when you spend over $50 billion, but at least Russia is feeling confident.
1 2016 Summer Olympics, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
The Olympics this year are definitely not being looked at in the most positive light, at least in terms of the media coverage. Several reports seem to come out every week of an unsafe situation, unsafe competition or other disaster stories that are going on in Rio. It makes it all the more shocking with all this negative press, that the country pushed so hard to host the games. When they were first announced, 82% showed their support, but in a poll from July, 63% of Brazilians already think hosting has caused more harm than any benefit.
That’s a scary thought when you consider how much of the Olympic cost comes from the city's inability to make use of the facilities after the events are over.
The city will be hosting events in eighteen venues, eight of which required redevelopment. There will be nine new venues, but seven of them are temporary and will be removed after the games are completed.
While there are no firm numbers available yet, it is being reported that Rio spent roughly $4.58 billion, and as of now, has gone over budget by 51%.
Among the negative press have been stories of construction delays which can increase costs, as well as reports of construction workers dying (11 since construction started in 2013). Rio also completed the largest ‘athlete’s village’ in Olympic history, but that hasn’t stopped various athletes and journalists from going on social media and sharing photos of the deplorable conditions.
It was later reported that the USA men and women’s basketball team will both remain docked on a luxury cruise ship, so to avoid having to live in the village.
We can only hope that with the games officially underway, the controversy can slow down (but let’s be honest, that won’t happen).