Rio vs PyeongChang: A Point-By-Point Cost Comparison

No matter what season it is, the Olympics are expensive. Though the Winter Games boast less than half as many athletes and participating nations as the Summer Games, they cost almost the same amount to stage. The Summer Games, however, could be seen as having a greater–not better–impact on host cities and their surrounding regions.

At present, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is fervently promoting a new Olympic bidding process that aligns with the Olympic Agenda 2020 and aims to create a greater and more sustainable Olympic legacy for all hosts. However, until at least a few more Olympic cycles have passed–Paris 2024 in particular–we are left to wonder if the short 17-month window between Rio and PyeongChang was enough for the IOC to implement any last-minute measures that may reduce the impact PyeongChang feels when the Games leave town.

The tables below break down some interesting figures from both Rio and PyeongChang. Perhaps unsurprisingly, more than twice as many nations competed in the 2016 Summer Olympics than are currently competing in this year’s Winter Games. Along with more nations taking to the court, field, pool, etc., exactly three times as many events were contested in Rio than will have been in PyeongChang, with the total number of sports in Rio being almost double PyeongChang.

Concerning Russia, 278 athletes represented the Russian Federation at the 2016 Rio Summer Games, whereas 169 “Olympic Athletes from Russia” (OAR) are present and competing in PyeongChang. The OAR designation means that medals won by Russian athletes do not count towards a Russian medal total, per se. Additionally, for those athletes that get to stand on the podium, the Olympic flag and anthem will take the place of the Russian flag and anthem. However, some still believe the OAR designation is too lenient since medals can nonetheless be won by athletes from a nation that once created a state-sponsored doping scheme.

Concerning the financial cost of the Games, PyeongChang is estimated to come in about $1.5 billion USD more expensive than Rio was estimated to cost. According to USA Today, the final price tag of the Rio Olympics was $13.1 billion USD, which was also $1.6 billion USD over budget, according to Business Insider.

The “cost” of the Olympics deserves a little further review. In the case of Rio de Janeiro, the budget for the Olympics was a cool $3 billion USD, which ultimately ballooned into $4.6 USD. So where does the other $8.5 billion come from? In the case of Rio, approximately $7.1 billion was dedicated to infrastructure, with the rest being dedicated to security, ticketing, advertising, transportation, and other expenses typical of a major event drawing in hundreds of thousands of spectators.

Given the complexity of winter sports and the peculiarities involved in keeping their venues in use, PyeongChang will utilize 34 different sporting venues whereas Rio only relied on 13 venues. However, unlike Rio, PyeongChang invested in temporary “pop-up” venues which it can tear down once the Olympics and Paralympics are complete, ultimately saving money down the line by eliminating future upkeep and overhead costs.

Total Athletes Nations Participating Events Contested Different Sports Athletes: Team USA Athletes: Russia
Rio 2016 – Summer 11,238 207 306 28 555 278
PyeonChang 2018 – Winter 2,920 92 102 15 242 169*

*In the 2018 Winter Olympics, Russian athletes are referred to as “Olympic Athletes from Russia.” The Russian flag will not be raised when they win medals; rather, the Olympic flag will be used as the banner of their delegation. This peculiarity is due to the IOC’s ban on the Russian NOC for its role in a state-sponsored doping scheme which crescendoed at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi.

Total Cost Number of Venues Security Personnel Hours Televised NBC’s Ad Revenue Total Travelers
Rio 2016 – Summer $11.5 Billion 13 85K 6-7K*** $1.2 Billion 500K
PyeonChang 2018 – Winter $13 Billion** 34 18K 2.4K $900 Million 80K

**Estimated by Wallethub, and as the Games have not yet concluded, this figure could change.

***Wallethub reported 6,000 hours of coverage by NBC, while claimed 6,775 hours of coverage, meanwhile other outlets presumably rounded up to 7,000+ hours of coverage.

Leave a Reply

4 Comment threads
33 Thread replies
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
19 Comment authors
newest oldest most voted

I have no interest in the winter Olympics. Most of these sports seem like something that only the privileged will have access to. The summer Olympics have a lot more events that no matter where you are in the world you have some kind of a chance to compete and train. I can only imagine how much money it costs to raise a figure skater..

Steve Nolan

Figure skating seems like it’d be one of the easier ones! Rinks and dresses are still not exactly cheap, but they ain’t a dang luge track haha.(To be honest, maybe a rink’s cheaper than a pool. Maybe water’s easier to manage when it’s frozen?)

I’m pretty sure Bryant Gumbel called the Winter Olympics “affirmative action for white athletes” or something and I can’t think of anything else when i watch those sports.


Too bad. Any competition in skiing, stating, boards, alpine, pipe, jumping etc are not a joke at all and many sports are more extreme than sports of Summer Olympics. If you don’t understand or don’t like them it’s your problem. Many people don’t like American football at all and don’t see what can possibly be attractive in attack that is lasting 5 sec and at first glance is like a bunch of huge morons trying to tackle each other to the ground for no obvious reason. But when you understand this game and rules you will see the sport of high intensity and athleticism and in many cases smartness.


I’ve never disagreed with everything someone writes before this Yozhik guy came around.

Nobody said the sports were a joke or didn’t take high levels of intensity and athleticism. The Winter Olympicans tend to come from more privileged backgrounds because the sports they play are expensive and rely on different geographic aspects. There is a lot less simple kick a ball or just run sports.

Coach John

he’s a bit of a troll sometimes. I think he’s just replying on his cell and replied to the wrong comment but you’re right. no one said the sport was a joke or less extreme. an odd comment on his part


There are plenty of Summer sports that aren’t easily accessible: equestrian, sailing etc. Most of Norwegians gold medals came from sports that don’t require big money to enjoy if you live in the area where is snow in the winter. It just happened that these areas are populated historically by people with white skin. It isn’t their fault that they invented sports that involves frozen water: snow or ice. In other discussion Steve Nolan expressed very strong dislike of winter Olympic sports because of their ‘weirdness’. He did it in the form that would offend anybody who loves sport in the winter. Now he went further stating that that is Olympics of white people only. Sure there’s now snow in… Read more »


Look Chloe Kim won a snowboard event. An American Korean. In swimming the last full Asian was probably in the 1950’s that won a medal usually swimmers are not full Asian in the US that win medals. Also, both top male figure skaters in the US, Nathan Chen and Vincent Zhau are Asian and placed 5th and 5th. Nathan Chen could have won the gold if he didn’t messed up the short program.


It is nice to have here the man of principles like you. The man who is tolerant to someone’s else opinions and views. Please make an effort and stay strong with your rules of conducting discussions. Don’t make any exceptions in my case. I don’t deserve it. 😀

Bjørn Hellerud

This is a very American way of looking at these sports. In Scandinavia we do these sports because it is cold and it is a way to pass the winter.


ice time is expensive and its pretty much one on one coaching which costs a lot also. My old boss had her kid in it and it was certainly more expensive than swimming.


Figure skating and short track have lots of Asians.


Speed skating may be relatively affordable. You don’t need the fancy costumes that figure skating requires (although I’m sure high tech skates still run you quite a bit), and I assume you practice in a group setting without the need for an individual coach like you do in figure skating. Ice time costs money, but probably similar to pool costs. Other than that, all of the other winter Olympics sports seem crazy expensive and definitely limited in opportunity for those from less privileged backgrounds.


Well also there was a speedskater from the US that started the sport 3 months before the trials and made it. An Olympian in 3 months.


I think you are referring to Erin Jackson. She was previously an inline skater. That transition has been made quickly and successfully numerous times. Chad Hedrick was world sprint speed skating champion not much more than a year after switching from inline. The problem with speed skating is scarcity of tracks. I think the Salt Lake City venue from 2002 and one in Wisconsin are the only full size indoor venues in the United States. Lake Placid and Squaw Valley are outdoors. Netherlands and China have many more speed skating venues than any other country. That’s largely why the Dutch dominate and China is improving. Japan only has two indoor facilities but will probably build more tracks soon since they’ve… Read more »

Coach John

I can relate to you about not having as much interest in the winter olympics (and I’m canadian) but I can’t relate to your sentiments on winter sports being more for the privileged. where I live (Montreal) kids have virtually equal access to winter and summer sports. a season of high-level skiing can easily get up to 20k$/year in expenses with travel and equipment but swimming when you’re trying to crack through to the senior national level or next level can easily get up to 20-40$/year in costs with 2-3 training camps… several championship meets, countless hours in the pool, tech suits etc. I would love to look into the accessibility more but at it’s base level swimming is probably… Read more »

I think the reality is that almost-all elite level athletics are expensive at this point. I think maybe our sense of swimming versus sports like skiing is skewed a little as a community; most of us started swimming on summer league teams, which are relatively inexpensive, but most of us are introduced to skiing, for example, via pricey family vacations to Vail or other resorts. For locals, though, an annual ski pass can be had for $600. That’s a great way to get started in the sport, the equivalent of summer league, before making the leap to the more expensive version. I could make an argument that football and basketball are the most accessible. While AAU and travel basketball teams… Read more »

Coach John

to your first point, that sentiment is a little different in my experience here in Canada. Summer leagues are virtually non-existant except for BC, Alberta and parts of Montreal. most of us started swimming club from 6-9 I think (I was 9 when I started club and it was sep-june right away) and a lot of us (in my experience again) got into skiing because it was a 20$ outing organized at school with a cheap bus (think crowd-funding before crowd-funding) . I was actually skiing before swimming and I swam 20+ years. as you pointed out, once you get to the elite level it sort of evens out at certain levels (travel requirements, camp requirements, equipment, etc) you bring… Read more »

Bjørn Hellerud

So it should be noted that in Norway high school and college sports are non-existent. Instead, towns, big and small, have at least one sports “club.” Within that club, you can choose to play a multitude of sports, from track to soccer to skiing – either downhill, nordic or jumping. We pay approximately $30 US annually to participate in the sport. Of course, we pay for gear, but much of this is subsidized for junior athletes. Participation in club sports is approximately 95% of all Norwegian youth. So skiing and skating and such are not so much seen as affluent sports…they are regular things regular people do. It seems it is different in the US?


I’m uncertain how all of that is financed in Norway. In the US, in addition to school teams there are also lots of sports clubs. In general these clubs are not subsidized. Elite sports are usually conducted by clubs, not schools (with some notable exceptions). Taking the example of swimming, the best age group coaching and best age group competitions are general found in clubs (again with notable exceptions). Within clubs, facilities, uniforms, equipment, travel to competitions etc, all have to be paid for by families directly. This can be enormously expensive, on the order of thousands of dollars a year for most sports (more for some). It can also be very time consuming for families, often making it almost… Read more »


Swimming costs a couple grand a year in Scandinavia. It seems sports in general are orders of magnitude mor expensive in the states? Many of our facilities are public which is probably a big factor. Only way you could rack up such costs here is by going to camps a lot.


Figure Skater at least 50,000 a year. If you make the Olympic team you make some money on Stars on Ice, skating show after the worlds.

Coach John

I would think most sports can get to the point of 40-80 days of travel per season, multiple camps and travel arrangements and equipment.


This already bad thread went over the tipping point when I read “full asian”


I only watched the halfpipe competition. I tried to tune in after that and every single event seemed like someone was skiing down a hill or skating.


maybe you don’t understand the different events and their objectives.

Coach John

I think he has a point about the “every single event seemed to be someone was sking down a hill or skating” I imagine out of the 105 events contested 80+ fall into that category.

one of the things I like about the summer olympics is the marathon and triathalon where the course can highlight the city in which they are in (swimming in the Thames in London, original greek route in the athens marathon, etc)


By IOC charter, to be in the Winter Olympics a sport has to involve ice or snow.

Fun fact – Ice hockey and figure skating used to be part of the Summer Olympics, before the Winter Olympics launched in 1924. They’re 2 of the only 4 sports to be at every Winter Olympic Games, along with nordic skiing and speed skating.


Swimming has been part of winter provincial games randomly here in Canada as the swim season basically falls on the winter season.


A similar argument could be that once the summer games start it’s only people in a pool, doing gymnastics, or running.


One other difference between summer & winter Olympic sports – with a lot of the winter sports, it seems like if the lay person just wanted to “give it a go” they would probably literally die. Ski jumping. Bobsled. Skeleton. Luge. Big Air. Heck, those downhill ski courses too.


What about high diving? Or swimming open water marathon in warm water?

Coach John

I think there are inherently more deaths in the winter olympics than the summer (the bobsled comes to mind EVERY… SINGLE winter olympics (that it is a conversation topic or a death)


I think the major difference is the speed. Everything is going faster on snow and ice. And therefore we have more accidents when human reflexes are too slow or the physical efforts required to handle the situation are beyond human abilities. And again because of the speed the impact has more serious consequences. Only cycling in summer Olympics sports can be a match and we have more injuries of high severity in this sport than in others.

About Reid Carlson

Reid Carlson

Reid Carlson originally hails from Clay Center, Kansas, where he began swimming at age six.  At age 14 he began swimming club year-round and later with his high school team, making state all four years.  He was fortunate enough to draw the attention of Kalamazoo College where he went on to …

Read More »

Don't want to miss anything?

Subscribe to our newsletter and receive our latest updates!