Do the Olympic Games generate profits?

A close up of a man wearing a Gold medal.
Olympic games can be very expensive. Tom and Steve / Getty Images

No. Unfortunately, they do not. That's straight from the mouth of the head of the International Centre for Olympic Studies, Robert Barney [source: Berkes]. A city might see a surplus of cash post-closing ceremonies, but if you include all those (at every level) who help fund the Olympics in any given games, he says no city has profited in the long run from its hosting role in a purely bottom-line sense. Many cities like to boast of mega-profits, but they often gloss over all the money that the federal government, among other contributors, poured in. And that tends to add up to a lot.

Although that's not to say a city doesn't benefit in any way from the Olympics. Before and during the games, local denizens gain jobs and revenues. Plus, after the Olympics, said city is usually improved in a multitude of ways (better infrastructure being but one example), and those improvements may attract further investment and development. Then, too, billions of people are exposed to a locale that they've probably never paid much attention to before. Talk about mega-marketing.


So that being said, Olympic cities do usually have an increased amount of international trade -- to the tune of roughly 30 percent [source: Berkes]. On the other side of the coin, though, lots of the Olympic-related developments can end up as future money pits. Some venues end up underused following the games, and incur lots of costs in upkeep.

By the same token, many Olympics leave a city with some serious debt. Montreal, for example, took about 30 years to pay off the debt incurred from its 1976 summer games. The original budget for the Athens 2004 games was $1.6 billion. Final tally? They cost the public about $16 billion [source: The New York Times]. We're going to rate that at: Super Yikes.


Author's Note

Jessika Toothman, Staff Writer

Writing this article made me a little glum because I would have preferred to share a more positive answer. My apologies. But I do still think it's valid that hosting an Olympic Games is an admirable undertaking, and it does put a city on the map, that's for sure. Plus, residents are often jazzed during, and after, the games, which is always a nice aspect to consider.

Related Articles


  • Berkes, Howard. "Olympic Caveats: Host Cities Risk Debt, Scandal." NPR. Oct. 1, 2009. (May 17, 2012)
  • "Do Olympic Host Cities Ever Win?" The New York Times. Oct. 2, 2009. (May 17, 2012)
  • International Olympic Committee. "Olympic Charter." July 8, 2011. (May 4, 2012)
  • Koba, Mark. "The Money Pit That's Become Hosting Olympic Games." CNBC. Feb. 10, 2010. (May 17, 2012)
  • London 2012. (May 4, 2012)
  • NBC Olympics Coverage. (May 4, 2012.)
  • Official Site of the Olympic Movement. (May 4, 2012)
  • "Olympics 2012." Families Online. April 23, 2012. (May 4, 2012)
  • Sochi 2014. (May 4, 2012)