David Owen

After two years of COVID, inflation has taken over as the chief economic problem for the Olympic Movement.

Attention has so far focused mainly on Paris 2024, which faces two high-spending years at a time when prices may be rising rapidly, imperiling budgets.

But the consequences of a prolonged period in which the purchasing-power of money is shrinking appreciably would be felt far beyond the French capital.

Indeed, there is barely a corner of Olympicland they would leave untouched.

Think about the Summer Olympic sports federations, many of which are hugely dependent on the subsidies they receive from the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

They received their latest such cash injection - $540 million (£462 million/€532 million), as it happens - in the wake of Tokyo 2020.

And that, broadly, is it now until late-2024.

For those with the fewest alternative revenue sources, this IOC payment is basically what they have to work with over the next two years, whether inflation is three per cent, 30 per cent or 300 per cent.

Yes, they can bank some of it, but interest rates in the countries where International Federations (IFs) tend to be based are typically well below inflation rates at the moment.

Winter Olympic federations are in the same boat, except that their latest quadrennial payments from the IOC will have been more recent, following delivery of the Beijing 2022 Winter Games.

The bulk of National Olympic Committees (NOCs) receive their IOC payments more regularly, after both Summer and Winter Games.

Inflation is already causing problems for Paris 2024 ©Getty Images
Inflation is already causing problems for Paris 2024 ©Getty Images

But, once again, the sums they get make no direct allowance for inflation, although the recent strength of the US dollar against most other currencies may afford some protection against eroding purchasing-power.

That is one problem.

The other is that the factor which more than anything decides the size of the payments that the IOC doles out - the value of Olympic broadcasting rights contracts - is completely detached from consumer price inflation levels.

This worked very much in Olympicland’s favour a decade ago, when payment-levels leapt in an environment where inflation had all but disappeared in many rich countries.

It looks like we are about to witness the other side of that coin.

A new edition of the Olympic Marketing Fact File puts broadcasting revenue for the Pyeongchang 2018-Tokyo 2020 cycle at $4.543 billion (£3.9 billion/€4.5 billion).

This will come as no surprise to insidethegames readers: we predicted this as long ago as 2015

That is an advance of 9.3 per cent on the prior quadrennium - a fair enough effort, but a rate of advance that is little better than the current rate of consumer price inflation in many rich countries.

Actually, the equation for IFs and NOCs is even more challenging than this implies.

Their post-Tokyo 2020 payments - the $540 million that they have to spend between now and late 2024 - is exactly the same amount as they received post-Rio 2016.

The post-Pyeongchang 2018 payments did increase a little in comparison with Sochi 2014 - a total of $215 million (£184 million/€212 million) to both NOCs and IFs, up from $199 million (£170 million/€196 million).

Inflation has risen sharply since Beijing 2022 ©Getty Images
Inflation has risen sharply since Beijing 2022 ©Getty Images

But this only just outstripped the levels that applied post-Vancouver 2010, when NOCs shared $215 million and Winter Olympic IFs $209 million (£179 million/€206 million).

Not only do TV rights contract valuations have little if any direct link to consumer price inflation, they are sometimes set far in advance.

From this we can predict that post-Paris 2024 payments - a big chunk of the money that Olympicland will have to live on in the run-up to Los Angeles 2028 - will also show relatively subdued growth, irrespective of whether or not Governments contrive to tame inflation.

From the late 1980s onwards, the United States broadcasting deal has constituted a high percentage of the IOC's quadrennial income.

The agreement covering the Pyeongchang-Tokyo cycle was actually negotiated as long ago as 2011.

Olympicland was in many ways more transparent then than it is now, so I can read in my colleague Duncan Mackay's storythat this deal was valued at $963 million (£823 million/€950 million) for 2018 and $1.418 billon (£1.2 billion/€1.4 billion) for 2020 - so $2.381 billion (£2 billion/€2.35 billion) in all.

As already stated, the sum total of broadcasting rights generated in the cycle was $4.543 billion.

This implies that the proportion of overall broadcast revenues derived from a single country - the United States - was a towering 52.4 per cent, up from some 48 per cent in the 2013-2016 period.

Well - guess what? - the value of US broadcast rights has since been negotiated all the way out until 2032.

The headline payment for the mammoth 12-year deal was set at $7.65 billion (£6.54 billion/€7.5 billion).

That is equivalent to $2.55 billion (£2.2 billion/€2.5 billion) per Olympic cycle, starting with the current one.

TV rights contract valuations have little if any direct link to consumer price inflation ©Getty Images
TV rights contract valuations have little if any direct link to consumer price inflation ©Getty Images

These long-term deals tend to be structured to permit a modest increase in the amounts that are paid over the length of the contract, so I suspect the precise amount for the Beijing 2022-Paris 2024 cycle will actually be slightly less than $2.55 billion.

That suggests only modest cycle-on-cycle growth for a contract which we can expect once again to account for broadly half of the IOC's broadcast revenues over the period.

(Yes, with the Summer Games in Paris, European rights will be worth more than the $786 million (£672 million/€775 million) they yielded in the Pyeongchang-Tokyo cycle, but Asian rights - which brought in an impressive one billion dollars-plus over a period when both Winter and Summer Games were in the region - can be expected to yield less.)

So - Big Picture - Olympic bodies around the world had better hope that surging inflation turns out to be a short-term phenomenon.

And by the way, I doubt that the IOC's surging sponsorship revenues will help very much in this regard, since a hefty proportion of what is received is in the form of products and services, not cash.

And while the IOC is sensibly trying to nurture new revenue streams in a series of initiatives which may well pay off in the longer term, a macroeconomic environment featuring both rising inflation and a serious threat of recession is hardly conducive to getting new ventures off the ground.

On a somewhat brighter note, you would think that Olympic bodies ought in most cases to be able to respond to the coming squeeze by cutting back on layers of bureaucracy propagated over two decades or more of good times.

What I fear is that some will choose instead to cut back on development spending.