The 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City generated a whopping $56-million surplus organizers will announce today, testament to first-rate organizational and logistical plans and a vivid reminder of the financial possibilities inherent in staging the Games in the United States.
The net surplus, $40 million, will be divided two ways. Most of the money, $30 million, will go to the nonprofit Utah Athletic Foundation, which oversees facilities built for the Salt Lake Games. The rest, $10 million, goes to the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC).
Salt Lake Organizing Committee (SLOC) officials also intend to spend $6 million on local park-related projects, and Mitt Romney, the outgoing chief executive officer, recently ordered the committee not to draw down $10 million in federal funds long ago appropriated -- in effect giving that money back to the U.S. government.
The Salt Lake surplus underscores the unique nature of the U.S. method of staging the Games, which relies on a partnership between government and a privately run organizing committee.
Three times since the 1980s -- Summer Games at Los Angeles in 1984 and Atlanta in 1996, and now Salt Lake in 2002 -- the U.S. has played host to the Olympics. Each time the organizing committee has finished in the black.
The L.A. Games registered a $232.5-million surplus. Forty percent of that money went to the Amateur Athletic Foundation, which has since given out millions in grants to youth and community sports activities.
The 1996 Atlanta Olympics ended with a slight surplus, about $10 million. Atlanta's legacy, however, includes a stadium built for the Games and then reconfigured afterward for baseball, both at organizing committee expense.
"I think people just wanted to be part of the Olympics," Romney said last weekend at a USOC meeting in Boston. He is now the Republican candidate for governor of Massachusetts and will resign his SLOC position today.
The U.S. model stands in contrast to that of Olympic hosts elsewhere, where local, regional or national governments often assume the role of the organizing committee. The Sydney 2000 Summer Games, for instance, were essentially run by the New South Wales state government. Earlier this month, the Sydney organizing committee announced it would finish with a $51-million loss after accounting for a $90-million payment to the Australian Olympic Committee for a fund supporting athletes.
The Olympic Games will not return to the United States until at least the summer of 2012. With four U.S. cities vying for those Games -- New York, San Francisco, Houston and Washington -- USOC President Sandra Baldwin noted, "We are the only country that consistently has made at least a small surplus on every Games we've held."
The IOC was entitled to $4 million of the SLOC's surplus. It donated its share to the Utah Athletic Foundation, bringing the foundation's total to be announced today to $30 million.
Please read our Comment policy.