When the 310 horses competing in the 2016 Olympics arrived at Rio’s international airport, they moved down a ramp to the trucks that took them to the games. The ramp cost Brazil one million reals (USD $315,761.52).
The ramp was just one expense in an infrastructure category that includes roads, rail, airports and hotels. The other two big Olympics cost categories involve the operations necessary for staging the games and the competition venues that have to be built.
Were are we going? To whether happiness is worth it.
Below, Montreal, Beijing and Barcelona were most expensive:
Typically underestimated, the expense exceeded projections for every Olympics since 1968. Furthermore, the benefits that the event’s supporters predicted rarely materialized. Tourists attending the events “crowd out” others who would have visited the city. The building frenzy creates stadiums, an athletes’ Olympic Village and other sporting sites that are underused when everyone goes home. And when a firm does add to its revenue, that money could very well flow into the coffers of a multinational with headquarters far from the host city. Even the claim that the Olympics adds to the future “visibility” of a city just does not pan out.
So why host the games?
In a 2016 paper on the 2012 London Olympics, researchers concluded that the host venue is happier during the competition. Called subjective wellbeing (SWB), the happiness of Londoners was compared to Parisians and Berliners before, during and after the games. Using an 11 point scale, their survey (with 50,262 responses) included the following questions:
- Evaluative: Overall, how satisfied are you with your life nowadays?
- Experience: Overall, how happy did you feel yesterday?
- Experience: Overall, how anxious did you feel yesterday?
- Eudemonic: Overall, how worthwhile are the things that you do in your life?
The results: At the risk of oversimplifying a lengthy paper, we can conclude that during the games, Londoners–especially more affluent Londoners– were more happy than people in the control cities.
Our Bottom Line: Cost and Benefit
Judged by a dollar metric, hosting the Olympics is a huge minus. However, the positive wellbeing that we feel during the Games is considerable.
So, I guess we need to ask how much to weigh so intangible a benefit.
My Sources and more: All academically auspicious and good reads, this 2016 Matheson and Baade paper in The Journal of Economic Perspectives, this 2016 happiness study from the London School of Economics, and this 2012 paper from the Säid Business School at the University of Oxford provided up-to-date analyses of Olympic hosting cost and benefit. In addition I recommend the “Happiness” Chapter 15 in Soccernomics and this Bloomberg article on transporting horses to Rio 2016.