Saving the Olympics: A New Model for Hosting the Games
The current Olympic model of one city hosting the global sports event is in disastrous shape.
Just bidding to host the Games can cost hundreds of millions of USD. Increasingly, the only countries willing to foot the bill for the Olympics are autocratic regimes seeking to shift attention away from human rights abuses. After Oslo dropped out, there were only two bidders for the 2022 Winter Games: Almalty, Kazakhstan and Beijing (two repressive countries all too ready to spend lavishly on the Games.)
And woe betide the cities that actually ‘win’ the rights to host the Games! Billions of USD spent on required infrastructure is wasted on facilities that almost immediately fall into a state of disrepair and decay. The stadia of the Rio games, not even 1 year old, are predictably following suit.
The pressure on public budgets and suspect long term economic benefits led to Boston and Hamburg, Germany walking away from the opportunity to host the 2024 Summer games.
Lastly, the opaque nature of IOC decision making virtually ensures rampant corruption. There’s just too much money to be made for bid backers comprised from the elite of each city.
Pierre de Coubertin envisioned the Olympics as the ”heritage of all men and of all social classes.” If the Games seek to stay true to that vision (a potentially dubious prospect, I recognize) then dramatic, substantive change to the underlying model is essential.
And so, a proposal: rather than a single Host City, there should be Host Cities.
Up until now, the Olympics have placed the enormous burden of hosting the Games on a single city. Instead of this tired model, the Olympics should be transformed and distributed across a global network of Host Cities. One city on each major continent would host a portion of Olympic events: track and field in Europe, swimming in Africa, basketball in South America, and so forth. Each continental city would be responsible for hosting approximately 6 events (rather than the 33 currently planned for the 2020 Summer Games.) A single Olympic Games would literally take place around the world.
Consider the potential benefits:
Truly Global: The Games are transformed from a local event viewed globally into a truly global event.
Share the Load: The economic burden of hosting the games is mitigated. Cities can bid on sports for which they already have existing infrastructure. Housing costs are commensurately reduced.
Opportunities for New Hosts: By reducing immense investment, cities and countries that could never host the games under the old model can now realistically consider hosting Olympic events.
Improved Viewing: More events in a region increases live viewership (versus tape delayed), benefiting advertisers. Further, ever increasing streaming / on demand viewing options makes it simple to consume other events.
Improved Ticket Sales: Fewer in-market events increases both ticket scarcity and the likelihood of sell outs.
There are, of course, challenges to be ironed out. For example, the Opening and Closing Ceremonies would have to change (it’s difficult to imagine athletes flying into the Opening Ceremonies, only to be whisked back out again to their global event sites.)
Media companies and sponsors, the two most important revenue streams for the IOC, would face additional complexity in broadcasting and marketing the Games. But as the Olympics are one of the only true global events, they’ll find it in their best interests to figure it out.