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The infrastructure built for the Games is the most expensive aspect of hosting and often the greatest folly, but it has also become the standard rationalization for the high costs. Historically, cities earned quite a bit of revenue from TV rights, but the International Olympic Committee now takes at least 70% of that revenue; as recently as the 1990s it took just 4%. Ticket sales and the influx of tourists offer quick hits of cash, but in recent years that revenue has never come close to half the cost of putting on the Games—certainly not for Beijing (which spent $49.1 billion) or the Winter Games in Sochi ($51 billion). Rio, while spending comparatively little, will be paying for its infrastructure projects for another two decades. And from all evidence, it will see none of the revitalization of, say, Barcelona, which hosted in 1992 and is one of just two cities in the past half-century to make back what they had spent.

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  • The infrastructure built for the Games is the most expensive aspect of hosting and often the greatest folly, but it has also become the standard rationalization for the high costs. Historically, cities earned quite a bit of revenue from TV rights, but the International Olympic Committee now takes at least 70% of that revenue; as recently as the 1990s it took just 4%. Ticket sales and the influx of tourists offer quick hits of cash, but in recent years that revenue has never come close to half the cost of putting on the Games—certainly not for Beijing (which spent $49.1 billion) or the Winter Games in Sochi ($51 billion). Rio, while spending comparatively little, will be paying for its infrastructure projects for another two decades. And from all evidence, it will see none of the revitalization of, say, Barcelona, which hosted in 1992 and is one of just two cities in the past half-century to make back what they had spent.


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