Salt Lake Olympic Exploratory Committee wants to do better than ‘to just break even’ on a potential bid for 2026 or 2030 Games

(Steve Griffin | Tribune File) With downtown Salt Lake City in the background people surround the stage at the Olympics Medals Plaza during the opening night of the downtown venue Feb. 9, 2002.

Whenever the possibility of hosting another Winter Olympics comes up, Utah leaders are quick to repeat their slogan, that they are “ready, willing and able.”

More importantly, though, they want to be ready, willing and profitable.

That was the common theme as roughly a dozen members of Salt Lake City’s Olympic Exploratory Committee met formally for the first time Monday since being formed last month to assess the possibility of bidding on the 2026 or 2030 Winter Games.

“We have to nail it,” said Fraser Bullock, the committee’s co-chairman and the chief operating officer for Salt Lake’s 2002 organizing committee. “Nobody around this table wants anything to do with a games that doesn’t have a surplus. … If we can’t get there, we shouldn’t do it. We don’t want to just break even.”

(Scott Sommerdorf | The Salt Lake Tribune) Former Salt Lake Organizing Committee COO Fraser Bullock speaks during a meeting in October.

Bullock spent time at International Olympic Committee’s headquarters in Switzerland earlier this month, working with officials there on ways to reduce the costs for future host cities, and making the games more sustainable going forward. Bullock has estimated that hosting the Winter Olympics could cost as much as $1.5 billion, not including federal security costs, but said Salt Lake would have to get that number down to about $1.2 billion.

At Monday’s meeting, officials touched on a few possibilities for reducing costs — ideas that ranged from reducing the numbers of tents and trailers at competition venues (at a potential savings of about $50 million) to getting the international ski jumping community to agree to use the existing jump in Park City, which is now 8 meters shorter than the current standard (at a potential savings of up to $3 million).

“We’ve got to watch every penny,” Bullock said. “… We don’t want to just host the games. We want to have a surplus to help the sports movement here, the Olympic movement.”

Perhaps the biggest issue facing Salt Lake organizers is the 2028 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. Trying to host the 2026 games would force Salt Lake officials to work with organizers in L.A. to share domestic sponsorship dollars. Bullock estimated Salt Lake might see as much as $500 million less in sponsorship revenue because of that.

With the possibility of a dual award from the IOC (the organization earlier this year awarded both the 2024 games to Paris and the 2028 games to Los Angeles), officials in Utah have to consider the possibility of a bid for 2026.

“We’re focused on 2030,” said Jeff Robbins, head of the Utah Sports Commission, “but we’re ready, willing and able to do whatever is required.”

Whether it’s 2026, 2030 or perhaps even 2034, committee members are bullish on Utah’s chances to be awarded the games again.

Innsbruck, Austria, has dropped its bid for the 2026 games after a failed referendum. Sion, Switzerland, and Calgary, Canada, still have political and financial obstacles to overcome in their potential bids. And a late-comer to the table, Sapporo, Japan, faces the challenge of convincing the International Olympic Committee to pick an Asian country as host for a fourth straight games. Domestically, officials from Denver and Reno/Tahoe have also expressed interest in potential bids. Those cities, however, do not currently have the venues in place to host an Olympics, and would have deal with those added costs.

“We’re going to have to be enormously efficient just to make it work here,” Bullock said of Denver and Reno/Tahoe. “For anybody else to make it work, it would be a lot. … The numbers don’t work. They just don’t work.”

Salt Lake Olympic organizers will likely get some help from the state Legislature. Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes and Senate President Wayne Niederhauser on Monday reiterated their commitment to funding $48 million in maintenance and repairs for Olympic venues over the next decade.

“They’re state assets,” Niederhauser said. “They’re important to the state of Utah.”

Colin Hilton, president of the Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation, said all of the venues that hosted events in 2002 have expressed interest in potentially hosting in 2026 or 2030. Others, including multiple ski resorts in the Cottonwood canyons, have also inquired about the possibility of hosting competitions.

The Salt Lake Olympic Exploratory Committee plans to complete its evaluations by the end of February. The United States Olympic Committee has until March 31 to submit a bid city, and the IOC is scheduled to announce a host city for the 2026 Games in 2019.