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Not counting overruns, Utah’s 2034 Olympics could inject $6.6B into the economy

Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games CFO/COO Brett Hopkins speaks at a July 10 newsmaker breakfast at the University of Utah’s Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute.
Sean Higgins
Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games CFO/COO Brett Hopkins speaks at a July 10 newsmaker breakfast at the University of Utah’s Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute.

In two weeks, Utahns will find out if the state will host the 2034 Winter Olympics. With the hype and excitement of approaching the bid finish line, a new report released by the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute shows the games are also a golden opportunity to bring in big bucks to Utah — but there are also risks.

Over the next decade, their data shows the games would generate $6.6 billion in economic output measured in 2023 dollars. The breakdown projects the generation of $3.9 billion in state gross domestic product, $2.5 billion in added personal income and the creation of 42,000 job-years of employment.

Institute Senior Research Fellow John Downen described job years as “kind of a funny measure.”

“A job year is that one job that lasts for one year,” he said. “So a job that lasted for 10 years would count as 10 job years.”

Ever since a second Utah Olympic bid was seriously considered, a low–cost Winter Games have been a major selling point. With $4.1 billion in expected expenses, the bill could come in much lower than other recent Winter Olympics. For comparison, although China originally budgeted its event at $1.6 billion, the 2022 Beijing Games likely cost an estimated $38.5 billion to put on.

What’s working in Utah’s favor is its venues. According to a 2022 IOC report, all of the 2002 venues are still in regular use.

Over the past 20-plus years, Utah has been a good steward of its facilities,” said Downen. “That is partially what has made us an attractive candidate to host the 2034 games, but it also means that the organizing committee will have to make much lower, much less, capital expenditures for the 2034 games.”

Only $31.2 million is expected to go toward venue construction, compared to $286.7 million in 2002.

Despite the optimistic outlook, the economic analysis does not account for cost overruns. An Oxford University Study released in May says they are rife when hosting an Olympics — every Games, since their data started in 1960, has overrun its budget. The report cites this summer’s Paris Olympics as an example.

“At present, the cost of Paris 2024 is USD 8.7 billion (2022 level) and cost overrun is 115% in real terms,” the Oxford study states. “This is not the cheap Games that were promised.”

When it comes to Utah, Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games CFO/COO Brett Hopkins said the potential for cost overruns is a huge part of their budgeting process.

“We want to put forth a budget that we have confidence in, that we can say to our partners and state of Utah, who would be responsible for the overruns because they're providing the guarantee, that we are confident that we can deliver on this budget.”

According to Hopkins, the current budget does have a roughly $400 million contingency for potential overruns or revenue shortfalls.

Not included in the current budget is money for infrastructure projects that aren’t venue-related. It does include some federal money, Hopkins said, for things like security and some transportation-related expenses.

“That scope of work will be provided and funded through the federal government,” he said. “In terms of road infrastructure and whatnot, that's not part of our scope. We don't include that.”

That’s not to say federal dollars are out of the question. In 2002, the federal government provided nearly $400 million (2002 dollars) to support the Games.

Organizers also stressed that Utah is in a much different position than it was in 2002. The state is no longer looking to put itself on the map and is instead looking to continue the winter sports legacy it built two decades ago.

“[2034 is about] how can we strengthen the movement and how can we strengthen the foundation that we have so all these programs can be even better for locals into the future?” said Hopkins. For the legacy to really endure, it can't just live off of stories of old people. You have to experience and that will strengthen that legacy as we go forward.”

Sean is KUER’s politics reporter.
Pamela is KUER's All Things Considered Host.
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