Salt Lake could host Winter Olympics for less than cost of its 2002 Games, says committee

Salt Lake could host a future Winter Olympics for less than it cost to put on the 2002 games here, according to the first budget estimate completed by the Salt Lake Olympic Exploratory Committee.

While the Salt Lake Olympic Committee’s final bill in 2002 totaled $1.389 billion, officials estimate the cost to do it again would be about $1.29 billion.

Those early numbers, unveiled Monday during the group’s monthly meeting, have officials here optimistic that the committee will vote next month to take the next step toward becoming an official bid candidate for either the 2026 or 2030 Olympics.

“I think once they digest this and understand it, the momentum will be very positive,” said co-chairman Fraser Bullock, a former SLOC leader. “… Every indication we have right now is positive.”

Since the exploratory committee’s formation in October, officials have lauded Utah’s Olympic tradition, the quality of its competition venues, and its advantages over its top U.S. competitors, Denver and Reno/Tahoe. But until Monday, committee members had provided few hard numbers pertaining to the actual cost of a future bid.

“They’re better than I thought they were going to be,” Bullock said of the initial budget estimates.

Fifteen years ago, Salt Lake had more than $1.38 billion in expenses. But because the venues used in 2002 have been maintained (a state audit recommended about $40 million in upgrades over the next decade) and other savings on labor and operations, officials believe another Olympic games here would cost less. The exploratory committee’s estimate of $1.29 billion for a future Games adjusts for 2018 inflation and includes $60 million in contingency funds.

The budget numbers exclude federal security and transportation costs.

In 2002, the Salt Lake Olympic Committee brought in more than $1.5 billion in revenue. Budget analysts believe a future Olympics would bring in over $1 billion through broadcast, ticketing, merchandise and other “high-confidence revenues.” That would leave a $292-million gap that would have to be made up with Utah sponsorships and donations.

“We think it’s an achievable number, given our history,” Bullock said.

The committee is expected to finish its final report by the end of this month, with a vote to move ahead in the process expected next month. At that point, an official candidature committee would be formed with support from Salt Lake City and Utah leaders. The U.S. Olympic Committee then has until the end of March to submit a bid city for the International Olympic Committee’s next round of selections.

“When you look at the cost savings and the amount of revenue we’d have to raise and how we stack up against other potential bid cities, I think everybody here in the room loves the trend lines,” said committee co-chair Jeff Robbins said, the president and CEO of the Utah Sports Commission.

Officials in Colorado and Nevada have both expressed interest in potentially hosting the Winter Olympics, though both Denver and Reno/Tahoe would have to overcome financial obstacles to win a bid.

“I think they’re way behind,” Bullock said. “They’re way behind us because we have so much more knowledge. I think they haven’t done a detailed understanding of the economics yet. I think they’re in that aspirational phase.”

The USOC has said it is open to submitting a bid for either the 2026 or 2030 Olympics. But because a ’26 bid would put them in competition for sponsorship dollars with both the 2026 FIFA World Cup and the 2028 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, Utah leaders have their hopes set on 2030.