Authors: Sarah Pittman & Colleen Collins
The Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games are a celebration of winter sport – and winter spirit. That is part of what makes the idea of the Winter Games so exciting to Canadians. But the Games are also a major undertaking. Before a Calgary 2026 Winter Games bid goes ahead, the communities involved need to ask hard questions about whether or not a bid is worth it. The economics of the Games receive a lot of attention, and that makes sense – how governments spend money is important to us. But there is also more to the Games than just money.
The assumption underlying this report is that a fiscally responsible bid is necessary, but it is not sufficient. There also needs to be something more. The personal and community social benefits from hosting the Games and the capital investment legacy is that “something.”
This report explores the costs, risks, benefits and opportunities of a Calgary 2026 Winter Games from economic, social, cultural, environmental, political and other perspectives. From this analysis, two key questions stood out:
Is the Calgary2026 Games bid an economical, cost-effective and responsible approach?
Would the Games provide significant benefits for the host region?
The answer to both these questions is yes.
To answer these questions, we looked at components of the Games that apply to every host region:
> Delivery of the Games/operations: The activities required to make the Games happen: planning, management, hosting athletes, teams and officials, medical services/anti-doping, ceremonies, information technology, media relations, financial management and ongoing progress reporting. These activities begin with the bid planning, accelerate after the bid is awarded and peak during the Games, and then drop off quickly after the Games.
> Legacy investments: The facilities used for the Games, including competition venues, broadcast and press centre, housing required beyond what is available, and endowments. These investments live on after the Games are done. For this reason, these are considered separately from the costs of delivering the Games activities.
Is the Calgary Games bid an economical, cost-effective and responsible approach? Yes
Have costs been minimized? Yes
> The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has introduced “Agenda 2020,” under which requirements and contributions by the IOC have changed, reducing the costs of both Games delivery and capital requirements. (Page 19 )
> The legacy of venues from the 1988 Calgary Games and 2010 Vancouver Games means that 11 of the 13 venues needed are already built and operating. (Page 19)
> Games delivery costs are also minimized because existing venues come with experienced operators – the “kinks” are worked out of facilities and operations. (Page 19)
> Existing venues have experience hosting world class events. (Page 21)
> Calgary does not require any major transportation infrastructure to host the Games, unlike many other cities. (Page 21)
Are budgeted costs reasonable to deliver a successful Games? Yes
> Vancouver 2010 provides the best comparison of Games delivery costs for Calgary 2026. Calgary’s delivery budget is $2.45 billion, compared to Vancouver’s final delivery cost of $2.39 billion (both in 2018 dollars, or $2018). One key difference is the inclusion in the Calgary budget of $220 million in contingency funds that are not relevant to Vancouver’s final cost. (Page 29)
> Calgary Hosting Plan budgets build on what was learned in Vancouver. The plan has the benefit of the experience of former members of the VANOC (Vancouver Organizing Committee) team and the 2015 Toronto Pan and ParaPan American Games. (Page 28)
The 2026 hosting plan budget includes two other elements that suggest it is not understating expenses.
> The plan includes essential government services. These are services governments provide every day. But during the Games, they will need to deal with the influx of people and multiple venue clusters. It is like having the Calgary Stampede in different parts of the city as well as Kananaskis, Canmore and Whistler. The hosting plan includes them in the full list of government spending expectations, even though they are not part of the Games operations per se. (Page 18)
> The hosting plan also includes over 2018$745 million and 2026$1 billion in contingency funds in as spent dollars in 2026. (Page 30)
The total cost of the Games, including delivery and Games operations, all venues, housing, Legacy Endowment and contingency funds, comes in at $5.1 billion in $2018.
This report uses 2018 dollars unless otherwise stated. Some tables also list $2026, or “money spent.” This accounts for spending that will not take place until 2024 (e.g., accommodation construction) or 2026 (Games delivery spending), and inflation that is expected in the intervening years. The information from the September 11, 2018 hosting plan has been revised to incorporate new funding information and changes in the plan as of October 30, 2018.
Table 1 summarizes the hosting plan budgeted costs and contingencies.
TABLE 1: ESTIMATED COSTS FOR CAPITAL AND OPERATIONS INCLUDING CONTINGENCIES OF A CALGARY 2026 GAMES (in millions 2018$)
Is the Games budget balanced? Yes
> The Winter Games delivery operations budget includes the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games. Each has its own delivery budget. The Olympic Games budget is balanced. Non-government sources of revenue are budgeted to cover 100% of the cost of delivering the Olympic Games. (Page 19)
> The Paralympics delivery budget is balanced. A contribution from government is typical for the Paralympic Games. The hosting plan includes a contribution of $218 million, which is traditionally funded by the federal governments. Non-government sources are budgeted to contribute 25% toward the cost of running the Paralympics. This is due to the Paralympic Games having fewer revenue sources. (Page 19)
> A historical note: The Calgary 1988 Games operations (OCO’88) generated a surplus of over $32 million that was transferred to legacy endowments after the Games. (Page 32)
TABLE 2: OLYMPIC AND PARALYMPIC GAMES DELIVERY – REVENUE AND COSTS (in millions)
Are there measures to prevent cost overruns? Yes
Until all the bills are paid, potential cost overruns remain unknown – but measures to prevent overruns are in place.
> Contingency funds are included in the hosting plan budget for: operations, sponsorship revenue, venue upgrading and construction, and housing construction. In 2026 – the total contingency is valued at over $1 billion in $2026 ($745 million 2018$). (See Table 1)
> An additional Games Contingency Fund satisfies IOC guarantees for the Broadcast Refund Agreement (after insurance and other contingencies are exhausted), as well as operating and capital cost overruns of the Games. If the fund is not required to provide contingency funding, it will become an endowment legacy of the Games. (Page 27)
> IOC funding commitment, as part of the reforms of 2018, provides a specific dollar amount of cash and value-in-kind, that is set in advance as part of the hosting agreement, which reduces revenue uncertainty. (Page 19)
> The budget process used reduces the risk of cost overruns. Hosting plan budgets for 2026 Games delivery and capital projects (venues and accommodations) involved a level of detail that does not typically occur until after the bid is awarded. The budget process, involved detailed, bottom-up budgeting of over 30,000 line items, with project-by-project contingencies. It was conducted by subject matter experts, including experienced team members from the Vancouver 2010 Games and Toronto 2015 PanAm and ParaPan Games. (Page 28)
> The benefit of experienced venue operators is that they are less likely to experience “surprises” either for operations or construction. (Page 19)
> The City of Calgary has a track record of building infrastructure on budget and on time, which should help keep the Games infrastructure that way as well. (Page 27)
Are all costs included? Yes and No
> The hosting plan budgets includes all operational costs (including government essential services) based on the experience of VANOC 2010 and Calgary 1988. (Page 19)
> The hosting plan budgets includes all capital costs for venues and accommodation. (Page 17-18)
> No related infrastructure costs are required to host the Games (roads, airports, rapid transit). (Page 17)
> Discretionary government costs for business development and other programming that are not part of the Games are not included. (Pages 20-21)
> Additional engagement opportunities outside venue communities are not included. (Pages 21)
Are there other financial costs that are not included? Yes
Opportunity costs represent the extent to which funds allocated to the Games by government and others would no longer be available for other purposes such as social programming or debt reduction.
Facilities that are used during the Games but are repurposed in keeping with local priorities would have required those upgrades anyways. Evidence of local priorities could include existing spending programs (e.g., affordable housing programs), or inclusion in existing medium or long-range plans (e.g., Rivers District Master Plan or City Recreation Facilities Plan). There are questions of timing – was the spending moved forward or the “typical” time frame compressed – but the overall opportunity cost is not a Games cost. In fact, the Games are an opportunity to build facilities that communities need with willing partners.
Would the Games provide significant benefits for the host region? Yes
Are there economic benefits from hosting the Games that diversify Alberta’s economy? Yes
Based on an adjustment of the Conference Board of Canada economic impact forecast, an increase in gross domestic product (GDP), wages and taxes to all levels of government is predicted before, during and after the Games. Calgary will experience most of the benefits – almost $1.5 billion in net incremental economic activity. The rest of the province will experience an additional $554 million in GDP growth. Benefits will also be experienced in the rest of Canada of $350 million from direct and indirect purchases of goods and services.
The benefits begin to rise in 2022, peak in 2026 and are expected to drop off sharply after 2026, when tourism and the business development efforts determine how much impact will remain after the Games.
The impact of construction activities is not included in the forecast. Therefore, this forecast, which includes only the impact of games operations and tourism, would be considered to be a conservative estimate. It includes the effects of spending on Games operations sourced primarily outside the province and the portion spent in Canada. (Page 36-39)
TABLE 3: ECONOMIC IMPACT SUMMARY 2026 WINTER GAMES, 2018-2040 (in millions, $2018)
> Economic growth of $2.032 billion in Alberta comes from an injection of money from outside Alberta that would not have occurred without the Games.
> Return on investment from operations (government spending on operations) Paralympics, security and essential services = $975 million. Assume 50/50 split Federal government with Alberta and Calgary + Canmore.
> Return on investment to the province of $2,032 million/$294 million = 7/1, which compares incremental Alberta GDP to Government of Alberta and City of Calgary spending on operations, essential services and security costs, net of taxes returned to the province of Alberta and the City of Calgary. Even with the lower GDP estimate of $1,889 million, the return is 6.3/1.
> Return on investment to Canada of $2,382 million/$181 million = 13/1, which compares incremental Canadian GDP to Government of Canada spending less taxes. For the lower GDP estimate, the return is 12/1. See appendix for detailed calculation.
> Projected tourism growth includes visitors during Games and following years due to increased awareness of Calgary and Alberta as a winter destination. The Conference Board forecasts an increase in overnight visits from outside Alberta of 9% in the three years following the Games. This forecast does not consider the impact of the 2026 Games, immediately following the Beijing Winter Games, which provides an opportunity to attract newly inspired Chinese winter recreation enthusiasts. For example, the Chinese government has launched a nationwide initiative to create 300 million skiers before the Beijing Winter Games in 2022.
> Games procurement policies will provide opportunities during the Games for local small and medium businesses as well as Indigenous businesses. (See page 49 for Vancouver example)
> Business development activities that are not included in the forecast can take advantage of the opportunities presented by the Games to attract potential visitors, investors, talented people as well as export customers for Canadian goods and services. (Pages 20-21)
Are there economic benefits from legacy investments? Yes
New and renewed venues contribute to the economy through their operations and from hosting national and international competitions. By the time the 2026 Games take place, WinSport will have contributed over $4.5 billion ($120 million annually) to the Alberta economy since 1988. (Page 40)
Affordable housing creates social benefits, and it also reduces rent subsidies from government to low-income Albertans. (Page 46)
Are there social and personal benefits from hosting the Games? Yes
Social benefits are perhaps the most important benefits of the Games, but they are difficult to measure. Economists do not include them in cost/benefit calculations. For that reason, they typically do not receive as much attention in academic research. For most people who are satisfied that the Games are fiscally responsible, social and personal benefits are what matters.
> National pride and community belonging are increased by watching the Games in person or through broadcasts. (Page 43)
> The Olympic values of friendship, respect, and excellence and Paralympic values of determination, inspiration, courage and equality can inspire us to be better as individuals and members of our community. (Page 52)
> There are benefits from hosting the Paralympic Games, particularly their impact on perceptions of what people with disabilities can accomplish. It encourages sport for all and accessibility. (Page 46)
> Volunteer opportunities build communities by providing a sense of belonging, particularly for newcomers. (Page 47)
> Partnership with the host Indigenous Peoples provide not only economic opportunities, but also opportunities for residents and visitors to engage with Indigenous people and their culture, which is a key aspect of reconciliation. (Page 53)
Are there social benefits from legacy investments? Yes
> Affordable accommodation would be created as the Athletes’ Villages in Calgary and Canmore, and housing for the Games workforce, are made available after the Games for seniors, low-income individuals and families, students and Indigenous people living in the city. Given the need in Calgary and Canmore for affordable housing, this legacy will make a major difference in these communities. Calgary has the lowest percentage of affordable housing among major Canadian cities and Canmore currently has none. (Page 22-23, 46)
> Legacy venues from 1988 provide recreation opportunities that would be given new life after upgrades for the 2026 Games. These facilities are a big part of the life of community members as well as high-performance competitors and hosting world-class events. (Page 22, 47)
Finally, it is also important to note that there are two additional questions beyond the scope of this report that a consideration of costs and benefits cannot address:
Can we afford the Games?
Is this what we want to spend our money on?
The answer to these questions lies outside an analysis of the bid proposal itself. The bid proposal presents a spending plan to deliver the Games and leave a legacy of new and renewed venues, affordable housing and a legacy endowment. Forecasting governments’ financial position out to 2026 makes answering the affordability question challenging. With respect to priorities, at the end of the day, those are questions that individuals must answer for themselves based on their values and the priorities they set for themselves, their community, their province and their country.
The Games’ lasting legacy will be its ability to lift up and inspire Canadians. Canadians are indeed known for our warm welcome to athletes and visitors from around the world. The Games can also inspire us to do more – to open our arms to our neighbours at home and make a difference.