With Olympics over, it’s almost time to tear down Pyeongchang’s $10m-an-hour stadium

With the 2018 Winter Olympics now over and the world’s curling addiction having to wait for years for its next fix, it’s a good time to look back on some of the legacies of Pyeongchang Games. Most famously, once the Paralympics are over on March 18, the main Olympic stadium will be torn down after hosting just four events, at a total cost of $10 million per hour of use, as Michigan sports economics researcher Judith Grant Long told WBUR radio.

This, though, is actually a good thing, argues Quartz’s Josh Horwitz, because it enabled Pyeongchang to keep its construction costs low (a mere $75 million for the stadium structure itself, compared to $600 million for the Sochi main Olympic stadium that currently serves as a mostly empty soccer venue. And at least South Korea won’t be on the hook for maintaining the place once the Olympics are over.

All of which is true, but even $75 million for a building that only opened its gates four times is a pretty flagrant waste of money — unless the revenues from the Games were enough to pay for it, which they’re not. The bigger problem here is the requirement to keep building new venues in new cities every two years, which Horwitz acknowledges could be solved by just sticking the Olympics in one place and leaving them there, before dismissing that idea as unpalatable to the IOC:

“If you look at events like the Tour de France that are put on over and over by the same organizers, they get very good at doing it,” [Oxford University professor Bent Flyvbjerg] says. With the Olympics,”you’re always giving it to beginners that have never tried it, or if they’ve done it before, it’s so many decades ago that the experience they gained is not relevant.”

The International Olympic Committee is unlikely to welcome this solution. Keeping the Olympics in a single host would potentially give local organizers more control over the games than the IOC itself. It could also leave the games vulnerable to the political or economic problems a country faces at a given time.

To be honest, neither of those seem like huge obstacles — plenty of Olympics have ended up plagued by political and economic problems anyway, and more control by local organizers is only a bad thing for the Olympics if you take it to mean “can’t get billions of dollars in subsidies every other year to help fund fancier and fancier venues.” But certainly the IOC doesn’t want to consider a permanent host (or even a rotating set of permanent hosts), and is instead encouraging “sustainability” ideas like popup stadiums, which are at least somewhat less costly and embarrassing when they sit around rusting later.

The only way any of this will change is if cities stop bidding on the Olympics, and as Vox notes, things are starting to head in that direction. There are still plenty of candidates to host the 2026 Winter Games, though, so unless a whole lot of them drop out before the winner is picked in fall of 2019, it’s unlikely the IOC is going to see this as an existential crisis. It definitely helps that there’s more reporting going on of how hosting the Olympics is an incredible money suck for cities — this certainly wasn’t the case when I first wrote about it 18 years ago — but as long as there are still a few suckers out there, the IOC is extremely unlikely to significantly reform its act.


19 comments on “With Olympics over, it’s almost time to tear down Pyeongchang’s $10m-an-hour stadium

  1. I am eagerly awaiting the first NFL “subsidize our team or the Bengals/Jags/Saints will go to Russia” campaign….

      • There are very few things I feel sure of in this world, but that no NFL teams are going to London or Mexico City is one of them.

      • We will milk no subsidy before it’s time.

        Don’t feel too bad for us. The list of major cities around the world which we consider underserved is longer than you might think.

        Some of these countries just need new governments that fully appreciate the benefits of what we billionaires can do for them (hint hint).

  2. They could also just be more practical. For instance, could the opening and closing ceremony show have been at a stadium in Soul? The parade of athletes could be in a non-stadium at the host. They’ve already gone to multiple pods within a venue (alpine skiing in one place, park and sledding in another, ice skating in a 3rd) already. Rotating hosts would also work though. Or just trashing the opening and closing cermonies, just have them in a park somewhere.

    • A green-screen olympics. Host all the events on a sound stage. You would still need to build the basic facilities, but you would not need to build space for spectators (who don’t show up anyway). Then any city could host. Instead of submitting a bid, they’d submit background footage to be inserted on the green screen. “Now from Beautiful Miami Beach, it’s the Olympic downhill finals.”

      • I like it…. I like it alot…

        You haven’t seen the movie “Capricorn One” have you?

        • I’ve certainly seen Capricorn One. Though it took me a minute to remember that it wasn’t Silent Running.

      • Not that they haven’t already started doing that: the flying drone ‘sculptures’ during the opening ceremonies were actually filmed one evening, well in advance of the ceremony itself, and edited into the television coverage, just in case they ran into poor weather conditions.

  3. Is there any practical reason why Gangneung Stadium wasn’t used? I read that the residents of PyeongChang objected to this, but was it that important to maintain an image of an Olympics in a small mountain town and pretend that all the big spectator events didn’t take place in a medium-sized city like all the recent Winter Olympics?

    • It’s nearly 2 hours away from PyeongChang by car and still over an hour by train. And getting all the athletes transported there and back would have been quite a logistical operation. You already get a fair chunk of athletes skipping the Opening Ceremonies due to prepping for their events and it’d likely go up considerably if you were talking adding several hours commute time to the event. Without the athletes the Opening Ceremony losing a ton of its appeal both in person for fans and on TV so that was probably a non-starter idea with the organizers.

        • If we go with Mark’s idea above, the athletes could be CGI representations. Think of the money saved on anti doping and travel/accommodation. And instead of minting actual medals just use blockchain to track who has what.

          Many athletes skip the opening ceremonies because the opening ceremonies now occur AFTER some of the competitive events begin… the jokes just write themselves at some point…

      • They would still have the skaters, hockey players, and curlers, but I see your point. Did a lot of athletes skip the Vancouver/Whistler ceremonies? I would imagine Beijing would have the same issues.

        • Just to avoid any confusion in my original question, Gangneung Stadium is located in the same area where the venues for all the skating/hockey/curling are.

  4. You need to zoom in a little bit on the Tour de France to see the same thing, though. The course changes every year, and small towns and villages pay for the honor of having the race pass through at 60 kmh. It’s not cheap to get it.

    So sure, it’s always going to be in France, but that doesn’t stop the extortion. And it may even be worth it, because I constantly finding myself thinking, Ooh, I’d like to visit THAT area…

    It’s probably not quite the same thing as needing to design a training potty stadium, either.

  5. Well, as far as jumping the shark goes, the Paris-Dakar rally had it’s name changed to just the Dakar rally… but it hasn’t been in or near Dakar for many many years.

    At the Montreal Olympics in 1976, some of the events were held in Kingston (2-3 hours away).

    Quite sure these aren’t the only examples of this kind of thing.

    If it is going to be a pop up stadium (and I’m in no way against that concept for the reasons Matheson and others have identified), however, why doesn’t the IOC just own it and be responsible for taking it from location to location, and for set up and tear down costs?

    It wouldn’t be 100% reusable, but ridiculous waste and the IOC are not strangers to each other.

    • That is actually a pretty good idea; a company like Nussli, that builds and sells portable grandstands, and even complete stadia that can be erected and dismantled when the even is done. They built a stadium in Vancouver for the CFL Lions and MLS Whitecaps, where they played for two seasons while BC Place was being renovated.

      A single stadium that can be assembled for one set of Olympics, then taken down and moved to the next site makes perfect sense…. which is precisely why the IOC won’t do it.

  6. Single City phoey!!! You know how hard it would be for IOC members to get bribes from the same people over and over again? Moy mentions many IOC members like getting free hookers from bidding cities all over the world. No one wants the same nationality of hookers all the time That’s like being married.