Hassle of hosting Olympics outweights the glory of hosting Games

Posted: February 26, 2014

THE GOOD THING is that every Olympic year when a bunch of Philadelphia bigwigs start spouting about what a great host that their city would make, we know they are just talking out of the sides of their necks for a publicity hit.

It's not that Philadelphia could not pull it off; rather, the Olympic Games - Winter or Summer - simply are not worth the amount of costs, resources and inconveniences that come with them.

Russia poured a record $51 billion into the just-completed 2014 Sochi Winter Games, but what did it really get out of them?

Have any people changed their opinion of Russian President Vladimir Putin because he played nice during a 17-day event designed to make him look good?

Are people more comfortable with the Russian government because the Russian people were good hosts during the Olympics?

I doubt it. Still, politics is not my field so I'll quickly move away from it.

With the athletes and Olympic visitors gone, Sochi is now home to 40,000 hotel rooms, four ski resorts, five sports arenas and dozens of new restaurants and retail shops - all of which would be great if the city off the Black Sea has now convinced people it is now one of the world's top winter vacation destinations.

I don't think so.

Americans will not go to Sochi when they can get a better winter vacation in such places as Colorado, Wyoming, California, Utah, New York and all of New England.

If Americans want an international experience, Canada is a short trip.

Except for the British Isles, most nations in Europe have their own upscale winter resorts - all without the hassle of getting a visa to travel to Russia.

And even though Russia has a population of 144 million, most are priced out of Sochi as a vacation spot.

According to a recent report by Moody's Investor Service, Sochi needs to double its flow of visitors to at least 5 million per year to keep hotels full.

It is estimated that the occupancy rate will drop to 35 to 40 percent.

Such predictions make Sochi's facilities a $51 billion white elephant. The fallacy has always been that the Olympics were so significant, they could showcase cities and increase future tourist activity.

The truth is that hosting an Olympics has almost always been a money loser that does little, if anything, for the future.

It wasn't until the 1984 Los Angeles Games made an unprecedented surplus of $225 million that profit even factored into the equation.

The Olympics can enhance a host city's reputation. It cannot form one.

The Summer Games have exclusively been held in large, well-known international cities. London, Paris, Los Angeles, Tokyo, Berlin, Sydney, Rome, Barcelona, Seoul, Mexico City, Moscow, Montreal, Athens and Beijing did not need Summer Olympics to put them on the world map.

Because of the nature of their sports, Winter Olympics have more exclusive requirements, but most were held in already popular winter resort areas that did not need the Olympics to make them destination sites.

What happens after Sochi and the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, will test whether the Olympics have the pull to do that.

There is a Facebook page called Summer Olympics Philadelphia 2024. It has nearly 15,000 likes.

Of course, Philly could pull it off, but would the cost be worth it? Philadelphia would not have the massive infrastructure cost other Olympic cities have incurred, but building Olympic-level venues would still cost billions.

There would be thousands of Olympic tourists, but the cost of security and the daily interruptions to everyday life would be enormous.

And, again, I will ask, for what?

Philadelphia is Philadelphia.

It is already a world-known city, not some little hamlet looking for recognition.

It's the city between Washington and New York whose international destination value cannot be raised much more than what it is.

An Olympics in Philly will not convince anyone that the Jersey Shore is comparable to the Florida Gold Coast or California beach; Dorney Park is on par with Disney World, or the Philadelphia Art Museum is as good as the Louvre.

All the reasons to come to Philadelphia are already well known. They either sway you or they don't.

What good would an Olympics do for Philadelphia?

What did the 1996 Games do for Atlanta; 2000 for Sydney; 2002 for Salt Lake City, 2004 for Athens; 2008 for Beijing; 2010 for Vancouver; 2012 for London?

None of those cities became significantly more attractive after hosting Olympics than they were before.

So as long as it doesn't cost any money, let the bigwigs have their moments touting Philadelphia for 2024, but in terms of exposure, the city itself would get way more bang for the buck if the Eagles reached the Super Bowl, the Phillies made the World Series, the Flyers the Stanley Cup finals or the Sixers the NBA playoffs.


Email: smallwj@phillynews.com

Blog: ph.ly/DNL

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