Statement: “More than 80 percent of necessary proposed venues are already in place,” an announcer said in a recent video produced by San Diego’s 2024 Olympic exploratory committee.
Analysis: Russia has pumped more than $50 billion into the Olympic games in Sochi, and like many hosts before it, a big chunk of that investment went toward new sports venues.
The latest estimates put the sticker price for new facilities at $6.7 billion but a group of San Diegans hoping to bring the summer games here in 2024 recently debuted a splashy new video that seems to suggest the region’s investment could be far less.
The promotional video, which aims to show San Diego is nearly Olympic-ready, claims more than 80 percent of necessary venues for the summer games are already in place as the camera pans to footage of Petco Park and cheering fans at San Diego State’s Viejas Arena.
The video highlights San Diego’s “first-rate” transportation network and emphasizes the region’s ability to leverage resources from a countywide half-cent transportation tax expected to draw more than $17 billion for transit, highway and road projects over the next 60 years.
What the video doesn’t mention is that San Diego is missing four very expensive sports facilities: two new stadiums, a basketball arena and a large aquatics center.
He argues other cities looking to host the summer games have much more to build and says his committee’s assessment is based on information from the U.S. Olympic Committee, which detailed about three dozen facilities needed to host a summer games. San Diego is just one of at least seven U.S. cities working on a 2024 bid. The USOC is expected to pick its preferred host city by the end of the year.
The USOC did not respond to requests to confirm its facility requirements or information shared with the San Diego exploratory committee.
We did, however, find 2008 marketing materials for the Beijing summer games that described 37 Olympic facilities, the same number Mudd’s committee documented. A 2005 U.S. Government Accountability Office review of the 2004 games in Athens also said Greek officials used 35 sports venues, which also closely matches the required number of facilities Mudd’s committee detailed to VOSD.
Mudd says his committee has used the USOC’s guidance to fan out across the region and assess the area’s sports venues. They’ve tentatively nailed down roughly 30 locations they believe meet USOC protocols, including a beach in Coronado for volleyball and Mission Bay for everything from rowing to the triathlon.
Organizers have yet to pursue formal commitments, Mudd said.
But again, four major facilities are missing from this initial roadmap. Organizers believe San Diego needs two stadiums, a sports arena and a large aquatic center to host a summer games – four venues likely to come with very large sticker prices.
The committee’s current plan assumes one of those new stadiums will be downtown, a general location the Chargers have also floated as recently as this fall.
They also envision the Olympic village – the hub of the games – would be in Mission Valley, the Chargers’ current home base, and that Qualcomm Stadium will be demolished to make room for more developments. This concept, like the new downtown stadium, is far from a slam-dunk. There aren’t any deals with contractors or official discussions about who would pay for it.
Mudd sees five major elements to the prospective Olympic village project: a new stadium that’s better situated for Olympic plans, a hotel, retail stores plus office space and housing for athletes. The latter two could be used by college students or businesses before and after the 2024 games.
To appease the USOC, one of those stadiums must be outfitted to host track and field events and another for rugby and soccer.
Mudd acknowledged that the Chargers are unlikely to use a stadium built for running events due to the track that circles around the venue, separating players and fans. The rugby and soccer stadium, however, could work for the football team if it’s properly outfitted.
Then there’s the new sports arena. Mudd said it would need at least 17,000 seats and large locker rooms that none of the region’s current basketball-ready venues have.
San Diego also needs an aquatic center with at least three 50-meter pools plus two smaller ones swimmers could use for warm-ups, Mudd said.
Altogether, these new facilities are likely to exceed $2 billion, and it’s not clear whether taxpayers or private backers would be writing the checks.
Just to give you an idea, here’s a sample of costs associated with venues similar to what the exploratory committee has proposed:
Meanwhile, the Beijing National Aquatics Center that debuted for the 2008 summer Olympics cost a reported $140 million, and a basketball arena erected for the 2012 Olympics in London went for about $62.5 million.
Mudd doesn’t deny the four facilities San Diego is missing are pricey but he prefers to focus on what the region wouldn’t need to build – and so does the video.
“When people realize that of everything that you need San Diego has a large percentage of it, that all of the sudden focuses you on the fact that we’re not building this from scratch,” Mudd said. “We’re not spending the money others (who have hosted Olympics) are because they built everything absolutely from scratch.”
He also emphasized that any facilities San Diego builds don’t need to be especially flashy and should be useful to San Diegans long after the Olympics.
For the purposes of this Fact Check, we decided to assume that the exploratory committee has accurately documented required venues, as dictated by the USOC.
But even if that’s the case, the promotional video’s claim that San Diego already has most of the facilities it needs to host the 2024 Olympic is problematic.
This statement implies San Diego won’t have to invest much cash to ready itself for the Olympics when even the exploratory chair admits taxpayers or private interests must invest in four major venues likely to cost at least $2 billion.
San Diego may indeed only need to erect less than 20 percent of required facilities but the ones it does have to build are especially costly. Focusing on the percentage of venues the region already has is akin to announcing Thanksgiving dinner is mostly ready — you just have to cook the turkey.
The missing facilities – particularly the two stadiums – are central to San Diego’s Olympic bid. Other venues the exploratory committee has tentatively nailed down are certainly crucial but beaches and bays, for example, exist because they’re natural resources, whereas a stadium must be built from the ground up — at a high cost.
The promotional video’s claim that San Diego already has more than 80 percent of needed Olympic venues is misleading. It takes an element of truth about San Diego’s existing sports hubs and leaves a deceiving impression: that San Diego is nearly ready for the Olympics when even the committee pushing for it admits the region needs significant cash and political will to build four major sports venues.