This article has investigated people’s attitudes towards hosting major sports events and the factors influencing them. The empirical data is from a survey of Norwegian residents’, which concentrated on their assessments of three major sports events; The Winter Olympics, UEFA Euro Championship for national teams, and The FIS World Skiing Championship (Nordic Games).
While the former two are mega events, the skiing championship is significantly more moderate, both in terms of costs and world-wide attention.
The respondents were told that Norway considered to apply for these events, and were asked whether they would support the application. Since the city of Oslo had hosted the World Skiing Championship three months before the survey was conducted, we also investigated their assessments of this specific event.
The results showed that a new application for the World Skiing Championship (77%) and the Winter Olympics received strong support (71%), while the support for the UEFA Euro Championship was more moderate (51%).
The survey confirmed that the social dimension is an important part of the events for many people.
This was something many respondents had in common, independent of which event and sport they preferred.
This does not correspond with the view of many politicians, who focus more on the ability to reap regional economic benefits. Although the respondents also emphasized economic benefits, this was nevertheless less important than the social dimension.
This pattern corresponds with previous analyses of the demand for sport which also emphasize the importance of the social dimension. (Wann et al., 2001). Sports competitions are usually enjoyed together with friends, family or other acquaintances.
Hence, they have a social dimension that is a value of its own.
The findings also correspond with research that has highlighted the “feel-good factor” as more important than the expectations of economic benefits as the reason for why people support the events (Hiller & Wanner, 2015; Kavetsos & Szymanski, 2010; Kersting, 2007; Kim, Gursoy & Lee, 2006; Maennig & Porsche, 2008; Zhang, Chen, Lei & Malone, 2013). In that respect, it is worth highlighting one of the conclusions from the research on the 1994 Lillehammer Winter Olympics (Spilling, 2000);
“It was a great experience, although not in economic terms”.
In a poll shortly after the Games, 91% admitted that the Olympics filled the them with enthusiasm. The most important reasons for this were the good performances of the Norwegian athletes (60%), lively street life in Lillehammer (44%), the opening ceremony (39%) and the positive reputation abroad (34%) (Spilling, 1994). These are all examples of externalities, which also have the characteristics of public goods. This means that the effects are non-rivalling and non-exclusive. See Samuelson (1954) for a profound discussion.
We also registered different reasons for why the respondents were supportive. Those who identified themselves with specific athletes or teams were more favourable towards the football championship than other respondents. This was different among those who supported the Winter Olympics and the World Skiing Championship.
Interestingly, such a pattern corresponds with previous research, which has documented that personal identification with teams and athletes is more characteristic among football supporters than fans of individual sports (Solberg & Hammervold, 2008). The Winter Olympics mainly consist of individual sports, while the World Skiing Championship only includes individual sports, with the exceptions of relays.
Those who were most interested in football tended to be more negative towards the Olympics than other respondents. One reason for this can be that the Winter Olympics and the UEFA football championship are both very resource demanding. An application for these events must be accompanied by a financial guarantee from the national government.
Hence, some football fans might have feared that hosting the Olympics could have reduced the chances of financial support the football championship. Therefore, their answers can also be the result of strategic behaviour and not their correct attitudes towards winter sports in general. However, this pattern did not work in reverse order. Respondents who were strongly interested in winter sports were neither more positive nor more negative towards the Winter Olympics than others were.
The referendums did not indicate in which city the events would be hosted, which we believe reduced the likelihood of strategic answers. The logistic regressions did not document any geographical differences in attitudes with regards to the applications.
This, however, was different for the 2011 World Championship, which was less assessed in Northern Norway than elsewhere. The most likely reason is the long geographical distance between Oslo and Tromsø. Although people enjoy the events, they prefer them to have them in their own region. Such preferences correspond with Atkinson et al. (2008), who documented a lower willingness to pay for the 2012 London Olympics in Manchester and Glasgow than in London.
Expectations of economic gains correlated positively with the attitudes towards the Winter Olympics, but with not the football championship. Although academic research has documented that the commercial benefits from hosting such events tend to be lower than expected, the host city may well benefit from public funding. This is more likely for the Winter Olympics than the UEFA Euro, since the former event is hosted in only one city, while the football tournament is spread across a number of cities. Hence, the Olympic impacts will be more concentrated to the host city.
However, even if people had positive attitudes towards the events, they were not automatically willing to fund them by earmarked taxes. About 50% of those who would have voted yes were also willing to spend taxes on supporting them, while between 25% and 36% of the whole sample (also including those who would have voted no) were willing.
One interesting lesson event organizers, politicians, public administration and other stakeholders can learn from this research is that people can enjoy events of a moderate size (in terms of costs) as much (and even more) than mega events. The World Skiing Championship was the most popular alternative among the respondents.
Although the venues had significant cost overruns, it was significantly cheaper than for example the planned 2022 Winter Olympics. While the total outlays, including both the operational costs and the investments amounted to NOK2,6 billion, this was only 7,5% of the budget for the planned 2022 Winter Olympics. Hence, it would have been possible to host 13 skiing championships for the price of the Winter Olympics. Furthermore, since previous Winter Olympics also have had cost escalations, the gap in costs would most likely have been significantly larger than these figures illustrate.
Hence, if the major purpose is to give local residents an opportunity to enjoy events within their own backyard, it may not be necessary to invest several billions necessary to host mega events in upgrading venues and new infrastructure.
Skiing is very popular in Norway and other Nordic nations. This research indicates that residents assess events in this sport even more than mega events, and best of all at discounted prices. Other sports will have the same position in other nations as skiing have in Norway.
If international championships in these sports can create impacts that local residents appreciate about as much as those from mega events, it may be worth concentrating on them. Which events and sports that can serve this job will of course vary from nation to nation. More research is therefore necessary to identify the specific events and how citizens assess the impacts from them.
The majority of international championships are less resource demanding than mega events such as the Olympics, the FIFA World Cup and the UEFA Euro. History has shown that mega events requires substantial investments, in both venues and infrastructure, and also that they tend to become more expensive than planned.
Additionally, they also have this habit of creating “white elephants”, which refer to venues that have a capacity significantly above the post event demand. Hence, if events of a moderate size can create the same impacts as mega events, i.e. the impacts local residents appreciate, the idea may be worth following up. In that way, event cities may have it both ways; Achieving the benefits, and at discounted prices.