David Owen

There is a golden rule when looking to analyse the International Olympic Committee (IOC)’s financial performance: cross-refer to numbers from four years earlier - the equivalent point in the previous Olympic cycle - not one year earlier, as you would typically do with non-Olympic organisations.

The IOC’s annual report for 2022, the year of the Beijing Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games has just been published; so, I have dusted off and reopened my copy of the 2018 annual report, the year of the Pyeongchang Winter Games.

These are some of the points of comparison that I found to be of interest.

First, broadcasting, the IOC’s chief cash generator.

The fact that an event in South Korea was followed by an event in China gives us the rare opportunity to compare consecutive Winter Games in the same geographic time-zone (Asia). This makes the regional breakdown more than usually interesting.

What one finds is that while the overall broadcasting rights revenue figure rose cycle-on-cycle - by all of 1.3 per cent, from $1.435 billion (£1.13 billion/€1.3 billion) in 2018 to $1.454 billion (£1.14 billion/€1.33 billion) last year, Europe was the only region that registered any growth at all.

The value of European rights to Beijing 2022 jumped an impressive 32.7 per cent from four years earlier to $238.9 million (£188 million/€219 million).

Now look at the picture elsewhere: Asia, the host region - down 9.4 per cent to $190.7 million (£150 million/€175 million); Africa - down 45.8 per cent to $4.8 million (£3.8 million/€4.4 million); Oceania - down 47 per cent to $7.1 million (£5.6 million/€6.5 million).

By this yardstick, the Winter Games, seemingly, are further than ever from being a genuinely global event.

As for the Americas - the big earner - income shaded down from $1.02 billion (£803 million/€935 million) in 2018 to $1.01 billion (£795 million/€926 million) last year.

This is even though we know that the IOC sold broadcasting rights to the United States from 2021 to 2032 as long ago as 2014 for a cycle-on-cycle increase I calculated at around 16 per cent.

Europe was the only region in the world where the IOC's broadcasting revenue rose during the last Olympic cycle ©Eurosport
Europe was the only region in the world where the IOC's broadcasting revenue rose during the last Olympic cycle ©Eurosport

It is hard to know what explains this apparent discrepancy, though reduced cycle-on-cycle revenue from other nations in the Americas may be part of it.

The picture is rosier with regard to international sponsorship.

The Olympic Partner (TOP) worldwide programme has yielded 28.5 per cent more income than in 2018 - a total of $706.9 million (£556 million/€648 million); the only issue with this being that a significant proportion (we are not told how significant) is in the form of goods and services, not cash.

Interestingly, the IOC managed to pocket $12 million (£9.4 million/€11 million) from hospitality in 2022, in spite of the COVID-related problems that afflicted Beijing 2022.

This helped to offset a big dip from $99.3 million (£78 million/€91 million) to $56.3 million (£44.3 million/€51.6 million) in royalties from the Organising Committee's marketing programme.

The IOC has said that it incurred additional expenditures in Beijing compared with prior Winter Olympics "due to COVID-19 countermeasures, the closed-loop management system, and additional human resources, operations, logistics and broadcasting costs".

There is evidence in the new accounts to support this assertion: broadcasting costs climbed nearly eight per cent from Pyeongchang levels to $265.4 million (£209 million/€243.4 million); Games operations at Beijing came to $43.6 million (£34.3 million/€40 million), up 33 per cent from Pyeongchang’s $32.8 million (£25.8 million/€30 million).

It should also be pointed out, however, that the IOC incurred only $1.2 million (£944,000/€1.1 million) of Youth Olympic Games-related expenditure in 2022, as a result of the decision to postpone the 2022 event until 2026.

In 2018, the year of the Buenos Aires Youth Games, the equivalent cost was $60.4 million (£47.5 million/€55.4 million).

The postponement, therefore, in effect, resulted in a very considerable cycle-on-cycle cost reduction.

The IOC's TOP programme was up by over 28 per cent compared to 2018, but how much cash they received is unknown ©IOC
The IOC's TOP programme was up by over 28 per cent compared to 2018, but how much cash they received is unknown ©IOC 

The cost attributed in the latest IOC accounts to "medical and doping control programmes," at $5.9 million (£4.6 million/€5.4 million), was also well down on the $18.5 million (£14.6 million/€17 million) expended on this in 2018.

Against this, the amount taken out of the Olympic Movement Fund to help pay for the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) was $22.7 million (£17.9 million/€20.8 million) in 2022, up from $16.05 million (£12.6 million/€14.7 million) in 2018.

The International Council of Arbitration for Sport also absorbed slightly more at $8.5 million (£6.7 million/€7.8 million), versus $7.5 million (£5.9 million/€6.9 million) five years ago.

The IOC also paid $125 million (£98.4 million/€114.6 million) into the Olympic Movement Fund in 2022, up from $100 million (£78.7 million/€91.7 million) in 2018.

This contribution helped to ensure that a handy $191.9 million (£151 million/€176 million) was left in the fund at the end of last year, well up from the $116.1 million (£91.4 million/€106.5 million) it contained at the end of 2018.

The IOC in addition paid 30 per cent less for Games cancellation insurance for Beijing than for Pyeongchang 2018, which was preceded by a period of high geopolitical tension in the Korean peninsula.

The 2022 cost is put at $9 million (£7.1 million/€8.25 million), a reduction of $3.8 million (£3 million/€3.5 million) from 2018.

Moving on to revenue distribution, while International Sports Federations are having to make do with $14 million (£11 million/€12.8 million), or 6.5 per cent, less than post-Pyeongchang, other beneficiaries of IOC spending have done rather better.

The United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee, for example, looks to have received nearly 11 per cent more than in 2018, that is to say a hefty $237 million (£186.5 million/€217.3 million).

The total channelled to the other National Olympic Committees crept up as well - by a bit less than six per cent, from $164.6 million (£129.5 million/€150.9 million) to $174.2 million (£137.1 million/€159.7 million).

The United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee received $237 million more money from the IOC in 2022 than they had in 2018 ©Getty Images
The United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee received $237 million more money from the IOC in 2022 than they had in 2018 ©Getty Images

In 2018, the Olympic Channel was allotted $85.6 million (£67.4 million/€78.5 million); four years later, "Olympic Channel and digital strategy" got $108.9 million (£85.7 million/€100 million).

The various items grouped under "operating expenditure" actually edged lower, from $177.9 million (£140 million/€163.1 million) in 2018 to $173.9 million (£136.9 million/€159.5 million) last year.

But within that, "salaries and social charges" were well up, from $94.8 million (£74.6 million/€86.9 million) to $120.7 million (£95 million/€110.7 million) - an advance of more than 27 per cent.

Since salaries linked to the Games themselves and to promotion of the Olympic Movement are not included in this tally, that $120.7 million figure seems likely to relate in large measure to staff back at the IOC’s Lausanne headquarters.

If so, those concerned will mainly be paid in Swiss francs, meaning that the Swiss franc/US dollar exchange rate could account for much of the quadrennial increase. Even so, that extra $25.9 million (£20.4 million/€23.75 million) a year written into the 2022 accounts compared with 2018 is money not available for redistribution around the Movement.

The IOC’s total revenue, moreover, was just 7 per cent higher in 2022 - at $2.36 billion (£1.86 billion/€2.16 billion) - than in 2018.

The overall four-year change in salaries and social charges, meanwhile, is from $168 million (£132.2 million/€154 million) in 2018 to $189.7 million (£149.3 million/€174 million) in 2022 - a rise of just under 13 per cent.

One other small thing that caught my eye in the designated funds breakdown: only $2 million (£1.57 million/€1.83 million) from the Olympic Movement Fund is shown to have been allocated to the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) in 2022, down from $6 million (£4.7 million/€5.5 million) in 2018.

These are very small amounts for a business the size of the IOC, but more significant from the IPC’s perspective.

I just wonder what explains such a large percentage-terms cut for what one would have thought was a deserving recipient. No doubt someone will tell me.