Salt Lake City to bid for 2030 Olympics, thinks it can host without losing money

Figure skaters perform at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. (Getty)

Salt Lake City will bid for its second Winter Olympics this century, and its status as a potential repeat host is one of the many reasons it feels it’s qualified to bring the Winter Games back to the United States.

The city announced Wednesday its intention to bid for the 2030 Games after an exploratory committee released a 140-page report detailing how Salt Lake, with infrastructure from the 2002 Olympics already in place, could stage the 2030 event on a budget of just $1.35 billion. Russia, by comparison, spent $51 billion on the 2014 Sochi Games.

The U.S. has not hosted the Olympics since Salt Lake put on those 2002 Winter Games. Los Angeles is slated to host the 2028 Summer Olympics, but only struck a deal with the International Olympic Committee for 2028 after widespread public opposition to the bid.

Many studies have shown just how financially burdensome the Olympics can be to a host city, which is why the conclusion of Salt Lake’s exploratory committee is so intriguing. In part because of growing concerns about that burden, only two cities bid for the 2022 Winter Games, which were awarded to Beijing. Many, including Boston, dropped out of the 2024 bidding as well. In light of those concerns, the IOC announced “Agenda 2020,” a “strategic roadmap” that calls for fewer expensive projects and better use of infrastructure already in place.

Projections like that of Salt Lake’s committee often undersell the true cost of hosting the Olympics. Low numbers make bids more attractive to the IOC, but are rarely met. Spending almost always eventually exceeds them. The 2018 PyeongChang Games, which begin this week in South Korea, could nearly double cost estimates by the time all is said and done.

There will be skepticism, therefore, that Salt Lake could actually spend less than $1.5 billion on the project. But even if it were to spend $5 billion, or three times as much as projected, it would still be considered relatively cheap. PyeongChang’s cost is currently pegged at $12.9 billion.

One strike against Salt Lake, however, will be the alleged corruption surrounding the 2002 Olympics. Accusations of bribery dogged the bidding process. Six IOC members were ultimately recommended for expulsion for their part in the scandal.

Another strike against any U.S. bid could be President Donald Trump. Global perceptions of the U.S. have hit all-time lows since Trump took office last year. There are concerns those perceptions could hinder the North American bid for the 2026 World Cup. That same anti-American sentiment could hurt an Olympic bid as well.

But Utah officials expressed confidence at a news conference on Wednesday. They said Salt Lake is also open to hosting the 2026 Games, which have not yet been awarded. But 2030 is more realistic, with a European city seemingly likely to get 2026.

Salt Lake is the first American city to announce its intention to bid. Denver and Reno, Nevada are also considering doing so.

The United States Olympic Committee must decide somewhat soon whether to submit a bid for 2026. The 2030 Winter Games might not be awarded until 2023, but Salt Lake officials noted the possibility of a dual award for 2026 and 2030 as a reason for their early announcement.