BidWeek: Why Salt Lake City Will Almost Certainly Host The 2034 Winter Olympics

Robert Livingstone
Robert Livingstone

BidWeek, Reporting From Toronto, Canada –  This week, gears were set into motion that will lead to Salt Lake City being elected to host the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in 2034.

Not in 2030.

Not even with a bid, per se.

The athletes of the world will be invited to Salt Lake City, Utah to celebrate the Games of the XXVII Olympic Winter Games.

That notion became clear to me upon hearing the new name of the Utah committee formed to oversee the Olympic Games project: Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games.

Notice that there is no mention of a year, or even the word “bid”.  The whole process involving the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) and Utah State has been carefully orchestrated from the outset to target, as carefully as possible, the 2034 Olympic Games for the United States. And, to avoid any friction and the possibility of an ugly, drawn-out bid process.

On Wednesday, 64 people were named to the group that has been organized to drive the process, and bring a “future Games” to the Utah Capital; this occurring fully 14 months after the USOPC named Salt Lake City its preferred bidder over Denver after a sudden and short domestic selection.

Rice-Eccles Stadium and 2002 Olympic Cauldron in Salt Lake City
Rice-Eccles Stadium and 2002 Olympic Cauldron in Salt Lake City. SLC 2002 generated an operational surplus of over USD $50 million.

It’s also worth noting that this announcement was made only two weeks after a 2030 bid from Sapporo in Japan received a full and necessary endorsement from its national Olympic committee.  As the only bid to receive the official nod so far, it has become the promising favorite in the race-to-be.

Here is some more relevant background:

Sapporo entered the 2026 race as a promising applicant, but soon hinted that 2030 might be a better fit as it would coincide with the delivery of important rail service to the region.  Then, when an earthquake hit the region causing death and damage, officials canceled 2026 plans to focus on recovery efforts instead – shifting the finish line to 2030.

The USOPC didn’t enter a bid in the 2026 race because those Games preparations would overlap with the organization of the Los Angeles 2028 Summer Games that were awarded the previous year.  But instead, it did something else that was unprecedented.

On the eve of the 2026 application deadline the USOPC submitted a letter to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) stating that the United States was interested in hosting a Winter Games in the near future.  This was seen a a defensive measure in case the IOC later opted to award both the 2026 and 2030 Olympics simultaneously.  The USOPC knew too well that this was a real possibility because it was already instrumental in organizing an unplanned double allocation involving Paris 2024 and the LA 2028 Games.

The U.S. wanted to reserve a seat at that table, in case such an awarding played out.  It Didn’t.

Utah Forms Olympic Bid Committee Focused On Hosting Future Games In Salt Lake City

Instead an Italian joint bid from Milan and Cortina d’Ampezzo defeated a Swedish joint bid from Stockholm and Åre, the only two projects that remained in the race after others dropped out.  Both concepts were new and presented unique risks so there was no incentive for the IOC to lock in the runner-up for 2030.

Milan-Cortina will be an uneasy experiment for the IOC, with venues spread across hundreds of kilometers in northern Italy – and athletes equally dispersed that could cause transportation problems if they want to enjoy the ceremonies, other events or generally participate in the overall Games experience.  The plan fits the IOC’s focus on cost efficiency and sustainability since very little capital construction will take place, but the question remains:  how might the Games themselves suffer?

In case things aren’t as rosy in Italy as IOC officials hope, a more traditional Games concept that also comes with limited financial risk would be nice to have, already in planning stages.  That’s Salt Lake City.

There aren’t many other cities, if any at all, that already have the full array of well-maintained world-class venues within the compact footprint that Olympians have become accustomed to.  A future Salt Lake City Games already has full state and municipal government support, as well as strong public support.

Without any significant opposition and with most of the other boxes ticked, the IOC wants to lock this in, and so does the USOPC.

So then, why not 2030?

It goes back to LA 2028.  The organizing committee representing those Games in California has a contract with the IOC and the USOPC that grants it certain marketing rights with the Olympic brand leading up to the Games.  For about four years following the completion of the Paris 2024 cycle, LA 2028 will enter into lucrative domestic sponsorship agreements that will provide a significant amount of funding for the Games, helping make the project viable.

Sapporo 2030 Gets Nod From JOC To Enter Official Olympic Bid Discussion With IOC

If Salt Lake City is awarded the 2030 Winter Games, it would secure similar rights that would begin after the Milan-Cortina 2026 Games.  So for about two years, both LA and Salt Lake would be competing for a limited pool of domestic sponsorship dollars.  By the time 2030 rolls around, there could be sponsorship fatigue, with U.S. brands that have already participated with LA taking a pass on Utah’s plans.

In short, both Games will be forced to split a portion of revenues.  That is something the two Games, the USOPC and the IOC don’t want.

A Games in 2034 is spaced out enough to avoid this revenue risk.

“Back-to-back games is hard to pull off,” Fraser Bullock, Chief of the SLC 2002 Games and newly named CEO of the Games committee told AP this week.

“That dialogue phase is now open for 2030. We don’t know if we’re going to be for 2030 or 2034,” Bullock added.

But for the reasons above, Bullock knows 2034 is the right choice, as long as Sapporo or another viable city sustains the 2030 race.  That’s the big ‘if’ here.  Sapporo already dropped out of the 2026 race and other options are limited and questionable for 2030.

Last month the IOC indicated that a potential bid from Barcelona in Spain has entered into a dialogue, but that project is still far from concrete and it seeks approval from the government and other entities.

The USOPC already showed that it can be a team player with the IOC when it cleared a path for the Paris 2024 Games in exchange for waiting four more years for an LA Games in 2028.  If necessary, the USOPC would likely strike a deal with the IOC to host in 2030 – one that would include financial provisions that could help alleviate the potential domestic sponsorship losses.

“It is for a lot of reasons,” Utah House Speaker and honorary Vice-Chair of the Games committee Brad Wilson said this week.

“We’ll take it when we can get it.”

The sudden organization of the Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games has the markings of a starter’s pistol for both the 2030 and 2034 Games race.  Bullock said the first task over the next few months will be to determine which race makes the most sense to enter.  Certainly the USOPC and the IOC will be big parts of this decision.

Last month IOC President Thomas Bach played up Sapporo’s bid for 2030, naming it “excellent” and capable of hosting the Games.  IOC officials have said that they are ready to elect a 2030 host “when the timing is right.”

IOC President Thomas Bach during a Press Conference at the Lausanne Palace Hotelon June 20, 2019 (IOC Photo)
IOC President Thomas Bach during a Press Conference at the Lausanne Palace Hotel on June 20, 2019 (IOC Photo)

The Tokyo 2020 Summer Games in July will be a great place and time for Japan to play up its Winter Games bid, and perhaps seal the deal with IOC members on-hand.  The USOPC will have picked a lane by then, and could join that showcasing.  The IOC could lock in a decade-and-a-half of Olympic Winter Games hosts by the end of this year.

Perhaps even with another double-allocation.

That timing makes sense too because it would then open the doors for the 2032 Summer Games election that will follow.  That campaign is also already in hurry-up mode with Queensland state in Australia ready to submit a proposal ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Games.

The IOC and President Bach have already demonstrated that none of the old rules apply, and anything can – and will – happen.  Since his election in 2013, Bach has been in complete control of each move.

I believe his plan is to elect Sapporo for 2030 and Salt Lake City for 2034.

The starter’s pistol has fired, but the race may already be over.

A senior producer and award-winning journalist covering Olympic bid business as founder of as well as providing freelance support for print and Web publications around the world. Robert Livingstone is a member of the Olympic Journalists Association and the International Society of Olympic Historians.

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