- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 26, 2002

The 2002 Winter Olympics, once so mired in scandal that critics called for them to be moved from Salt Lake City, are a bona fide moneymaker.
As America yesterday basked in the day-after glow of an Olympics free of terrorist incident and bursting with homegrown medal winners, Salt Lake Olympic Committee (SLOC) organizers projected a profit of at least $40 million from the Games. NBC, which televised the competition on three networks, stands to net $75 million. Utah businesses celebrated the beginning of an estimated $3.5 billion in economic benefit between now and 2009.
The SLOC, defying all expectations, is expected to officially show a profit in May. When that happens, Salt Lake will join the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles as the only Games ever to finish in the black. The 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta, the last to be held in the United States, broke even.
The result is that the Salt Lake Games likely will be regarded as one of the best Olympics ever and that Salt Lake's success makes the United States the front-runner to play host to the 2012 Summer Olympics. Washington is one of four U.S. cities bidding for the 2012 Games.
"We've had some very positive surprises on the revenue front," said Mitt Romney, SLOC president and CEO. "We had been concerned that following September 11 ticket sales might slacken. But they stayed strong and became even more robust in January and February. During the Games, ticket sales remained very, very strong."
Six months ago, SLOC officials simply hoped to break even. The Games had an $890 million operating budget and total outlay of $1.9 billion. NBC hoped to generate a $50 million profit with a frenetic sales effort in a slumping ad market. Goals within Utah were modest, too: Civic boosters were working overtime to overcome stereotypes about polygamy and the Mormon Church and to dispel the lingering odor of a bribery scandal related to the SLOC's bid to land the Games.
However, the confluence of unprecedented success by U.S. athletes (34 medals), smooth transportation, palatable weather and a heavy lineup of nighttime entertainment prompted fans in Salt Lake City to spend and viewers around the world to watch far beyond the most bullish of projections. NBC's aggregate national ratings for the 2002 Olympics beat the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano, Japan, by 18 percent. Merchandise sales, fueled by demand for official U.S. team berets, approached $500 million at retail, more than 50 percent higher than anticipated. The SLOC handily beat its goal of $180 million in ticket sales.
The final SLOC figures for the Games will be released this spring.
"The areas of success were pretty much across the board," Mr. Romney said.
The SLOC this week will supply $40 million in surplus to a legacy fund that will maintain the mountain venues. The Utah Athletic Foundation will receive 65 percent of any subsequent profit. The U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) will divide the other 35 percent.
"It's just amazing what's happening here," said John Lucas, a retired Penn State University professor and Olympic historian. "Right up there with Peter Ueberroth [lead organizer of the 1984 Los Angeles Games], Mitt Romney has showed himself to be a charismatic and brilliant leader."
The economic success, however, was not universal. Businesses in Salt Lake City and Park City near the venues and music stages teemed with activity. Others just a block or two away generated less revenue than they would have in an ordinary February, a phenomenon experienced at recent Summer Games in Atlanta and Sydney, Australia. But Utah economic officials are seeking to learn from recent Olympic hosts and do much more economic development after the Games than during.
"It was a great two weeks, but it was just two weeks," said Larry Mankin, president of the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce. "Our real work is just beginning. [Gov. Michael O. Leavitt] has put together a 1,000-day plan to build upon what happened here, and we intend to execute it."
NBC's bonanza requires an asterisk as well. The viewership for figure skating, hockey and other marquee events qualified as a huge success, but the overall improvement over the Nagano ratings was an improvement over the worst-ever marks for a Winter Olympics.
NBC said the Olympics were not solely about numbers.
"I think there's a sense that people are talking about the Olympics now more than perhaps ever before," said Randy Falco, NBC president. "This has had the highest impact and weight of any major event that we've measured."
Meanwhile, IOC President Jacques Rogge said the success of the Salt Lake Games "boosted" the United States' chances of playing host to the 2012 Olympics. Those chances had been considered to be hurt by organizational miscues at the 1996 Atlanta Games and the Salt Lake bribery scandal.
The Chesapeake Region 2012 Coalition, official body for the Washington-Baltimore bid, is refining its plans to meet two key deadlines and separate it from the three remaining U.S. competitors New York, San Francisco and Houston. The USOC requires written amendments to bid documents be filed by April 8. The USOC also will make site visits this summer; committee officials are due here June 28 and 29. The USOC will pick its candidate city in November. The IOC makes the final choice in 2005.
"We've got a lot of work to do, but a lot of what we saw in Salt Lake can and will happen here. I was confident before. I am even more so now," said Dan Knise, coalition executive director. "Even though Summer and Winter Olympics are very different, there were quite a lot of similarities in the technical aspects there and what we propose. This was a Games of mass transit, a Games with a real sense of celebration and a dramatic backdrop, all of which are central to our bid."

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide