The Road to 2026: Vancouver’s 2010 Legacy

We’re into the second part of our trip down Olympic memory lane. Last time, we looked at the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics. Those games saw a scrappy little oil town host the world and get a few pieces of sporting infrastructure out of the whole process (along with a nice sense of community).

The 1988 Olympics made money (in terms of their operations), and the reports of corruption were rather minor. Now, there are two common explanations for this:

  • Hey, the corruption and chaos of Russia and Brazil were unique to the business and political cultures of those countries.
  • Hey, the IOC only got really corrupt in recent years.

So to test whether it’s the place (the host country) or the time (recent versus past) that impacts the feasibility, profitability and tolerability of an Olympics, let’s head to a place very near and dear to us – Vancouver, who hosted the 2010 Olympics.

While the ’88 Olympics were held to put Calgary on the world map, Vancouver very much already had a reputation as a world-class city before they even considered bidding. Nestled snugly in-between mountains and coastline, Vancouver’s just a fabulous (albeit wildly expensive) place to do business, work, play and live. The 2010 Olympics were, in many ways, meant as a celebration of both Vancouver and Canada as a whole. If the ’88 games was Canada as an ambitious 20-something trying to show they could be a grown-up, the 2010 games were very much a sophisticated party to celebrate just how damn awesome they’d become as an adult.

And in many ways, the 2010 Olympics were where the investments that followed the 1988 Olympics – through commitments to amateur sports made possible by all the infrastructure built in Calgary and area – really bore fruit in massive ways. Canada won a ton of gold medals, including a gold medal overtime win in ice hockey off a Sidney Crosby goal set up by Jarome Iginla.

There wasn’t one “big” scandal, but a series of small and medium-sized gaffes including really fast ice at the luge track (resulting in the pre-Olympic death of a Georgian luger), several injuries on the downhill skiing circuit, and some embarrassment when the City of Vancouver sold the lands for that city’s Olympic Village to a private developer (walking back some of their earlier promises for middle-income housing) only to have that developer back out of the sale and forcing the city to scramble to get the funding to complete the development. Everything turned outfine, but everyone looked a bit bad in the process save for the developer that stepped in to get the village completed.

WHAT GOT BUILT?

The 2010 Olympics saw the construction of the Richmond Olympic Oval, UBC Thunderbird Arena, the Vancouver Olympic Centre, Whistler Olympic Park, the Whistler Sliding Centre, and Olympic Villages in both Vancouver and Whistler. There were also renovations conducted at Cypress Mountain and Whistler Creekside, as well as the continuation of existing renovations at the Pacific Coliseum.

In non-Olympics related infrastructure, Vancouver got themselves a train to the airport! The Canada Line of the SkyTrain system was a $2 billion investment to link Vancouver, Richmond and the Vancouver International Airport. The federal government put up $450 million, the provincial government put up $435 million, the airport authority put up $300 million, TransLink (a provincial entity running the SkyTrain) put up $334 million and the city put up $29 million. A private partner, InTransitBC, spent $175 million on the project, and constructed the line. (Putting up some funding was part of winning the bid.)

HOW MUCH DID IT COST?

The Olympic bid itself cost roughly $34 million.

Once Vancouver was selected as host, just over $600 million was spent on venue construction and upgrades, funded primarily by government – $290 million each from the federal and provincial governments – along with a smattering of other smaller sources. The operating costs of the Vancouver games were $1.884 billion.

Now, those costs don’t sound so bad…until you factor in other costs not directly related to the putting-on of sporting events. Those include safety upgrades to the Sea-to-Sky Highway (which were admittedly long overdue), an estimated $1 billion in security costs (likely that high because there’s a port to protect), and the expansion of the Vancouver Convention Centre (so it could serve as the media and broadcast hub of the games) that went roughly $380 million over budget.

The highway upgrades and the convention centre expansion were probably going to happen eventually anyway (albeit probably not all at once), while the security expenses are typically insisted upon by the IOC as part of the bid.

DID THE GAMES MAKE MONEY?

No.

According to the official report of the organizing committee, the operations of the 2010 Olympics just broke even. If you wish to use the same phrasing we did when reviewing the Calgary Olympics, the Vancouver Olympics broke even and spurred a $600 million capital investment.

WHO PAID FOR EVERYTHING?

A mix of many different sources.

For the operation of the actual Olympics, the federal government contributed $74 million and the provincial government kicked in $113 million. Revenue generating activities undertaken by the host committed produced $175 million. The IOC kicked in just under $480 million, presumably generated by television rights (and other sources). The biggest revenue generator was sponsorships, though: the IOC’s international sponsorship agreements produced $174 million and their domestic ones produced $740 million (in both cash and in-kind value).

(The cost overruns for the convention centre were paid for by the provincial government.)

WHAT DO THEY HAVE TO SHOW FOR IT?

If you’re a glass-half-full person, you look at the 2010 Olympics and see the SkyTrain to the airport, the convention centre expansion, some upgraded developments to some under-utilized areas in downtown Vancouver, as well as a bunch of really nice sporting venues throughout the Vancouver area.

If you’re a glass-half-empty person, you see a lot of public money doled out for a relatively short event. Between venues, operation and cost overruns, the federal government spent $365 million and the province spent $783 million. (And that number climbs to $815 million of federal money and $1.2 billion of provincial money – or $1.5 billion if you want to include TransLink’s contributions as provincial funds.) With that much skin in the game, all levels of government were vulnerable to the economic downturn immediately prior to the game and the funding of the Olympics meant some budgetary scrambling (along with some tough decisions they had to made following the Olympics to balance their books). It was a fabulous party, but it left a lot of public entities to foot the bill.

The Vancouver Olympics also produced a few adorable mascots, including the sublime Quatchi – a smiling sasquatch. Time will tell if they have the staying power of Hidy and Howdy.

  • The Fall

    I worked a lot on Olympic related projects in Vancouver. I was relatively inexperienced at the time. Most of my more experienced co workers and mentors commented that sponsorship dollars were down 5-10x previous winter games due to the financial collapse in ’08. Big spenders like Heinken for example simply did not invest anywhere close to what was budgeted.

  • ronipedia

    What I am wondering is how much money the IOC made from the 2010 Games. Do they commit everything they make off TV/sponsorships to the hosts, or do they keep some of it?

    Construction of venues and infrastructure is one thing, but the fact that public money is spent on the operating budget seems kinda hinky.

  • Greg

    I would think another Olympic hosting for Calgary would result in 1) construction of the green line 2) a widening of the highway at least to Canmore (if not Banff), and 3) a new stadium for the flames. I have no idea if it makes good economic sense to host the games, but I’d like to see all three of those things happen (and two of them would actually be money well spent :P), so count me in.

  • al rain

    Nice to read kind words for the city of Vancouver. I’ve never understood the knee-jerk need to trash talk it by some Flames fans.

    And yeah, Quatchi > Howdy by about a million miles.