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World Sport

The price of the Games

By Tracey Holmes for CNN

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Attendances during the first week of events have been disappointing.
SPECIAL REPORT
• Olympics 2004: Special report 
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Olympics 2004

When Athens won the right to stage the Games of the 28th Olympiad nobody could tell them that by 2004 the world would be a different place.

Nobody could guess that terrorism would be on the top of every nation's agenda post September 11.

Suddenly, an event that was budgeted at $2.5 billion, just to stage the sports, now had to add a security budget of $1.5 billion.

What the Greek organizing committee (ATHOC) was warned about was lethargy, unionism and unrealistic expectations.

Building venues to host the equivalent of 28 world championships in 14 days also meant building infrastructure that would support the sports -- roads, transport systems, accommodation all of which were supposed to be "environmentally friendly" facilities. Add another $2.5 billion.

So now the organizers are staring at a rather large pot that has just had $7 billion drained out of it. Can they break even? Can they even come close to breaking even?

That all depends on how you measure success, and how much time you give it.

The $500 million ATHOC expected to raise from ticket sales will not happen.

Halfway through the Games they have only sold half of their 5.3 million tickets.

Once again this could be attributed to the fear factor, of being part of a rather large gathering with nowhere to hide should something as terrible as a terrorist attack occur.

Factor number two which could be keeping the locals away from events is national embarrassment.

In the lead up to the Olympics there was no shortage of stories telling the world that Greeks could not get it together. There were even rumors of giving the Games back to Sydney (hosts in 2000) or letting Beijing have the Games four years earlier (hosts in 2008).

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ATHOC is unlikely to meet is targets for ticket sales.

The IOC President, Jacque Rogge, became the headmaster warning his student of dire consequences if all the homework was not completed on time.

As we saw at the Opening Ceremony in the main stadium only a week ago, and at subsequent sporting venues, ATHOC, in the end, got it right.

The facilities are spectacular, the events are running smoothly and, as organizers of prior Games will tell you, the most difficult job is keeping the media happy.

It seems one week in, with one week to go, the media are mostly happy.

So with ticket sales low, but with the high-profile athletic events in the main stadium still to be held, how else will ATHOC recoup some its money? Here's where some of the money will come from:

  • Television rights fees will be the biggest pay check the organizers will see -- worth about $724 million.
  • Add to that $180 million that the IOC will donate from its premier sponsorship category, the TOP Program.
  • The Domestic sponsorship program will net Games organizers $242 million -- a target reached two years before the Opening Ceremony.
  • The Licensing program will bring in close to $56 million.
  • All that, along with tickets, makes $1.4 billion.

    The rest is a little harder, and will take a little longer, to measure.

    Just this week Tourism Australia announced that four years on from hosting the Olympics overseas tourists for the year 2003/04 numbered 5.1 million -- a best ever result. That should equate to about $1 billion in export earnings.

    The year immediately following the Sydney Olympics also came close to this mark.

    Flow-on effects

    How long the flow-on effect can last is up to governments and agencies who market the country internationally. Barcelona still believes it is benefiting financially from the Games it hosted 12 years ago.

    And the one factor that is impossible to put a figure on? National pride which converts to higher productivity and creativity with a hopeful follow on to the economy.

    While tourism is not going through the roof in Athens this month, given time, and the right marketing techniques, it surely will.

    By the end of the Games on August 29, more than 3.7 billion people in 220 countries would have seen what Greece has to offer.

    Even if the locals are a little reticent about waving the national flag at the moment, once the world fills in its post Olympic report card and ticks the A-plus box their spirit will boil over.

    Let's face it, most Greeks know more about the Ancient Games 3,000 years ago than they do about the Modern Olympics.

    Come August 30 these Games, too, will be history and the Greeks may finally show they are very interested.


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