Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow

The Room for Debate blog at the New York Times runs a series of short opinion pieces today about the lack of snow in Vancouver at the opening of the Winter Games. Here’s my contribution.

Economists have shown time and time again that the rosy estimates of economic benefits put forward by sports boosters are at odds with actual economic data from cities that host mega-events like the Olympics and the Super Bowl.

In the face of that evidence, the boosters often turn to the potential “indirect” benefits to be reaped. For the Olympics, the claim is that the games can serve as a huge advertisement for the host city. But of course, the image left isn’t always positive.

The bribery scandal that surrounded Salt Lake City’s 2002 Winter Olympics bid sullied the area’s squeaky clean image. The terrorist incidents at the 1972 and 1996 Summer Olympics cast their host cities in a bad light. Even successful events may do little to promote a city. The 2005 Super Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla. went off without a hitch, but many visitors left the city with the impression that it had little to offer tourists.

Vancouver is an appealing setting. But the warm weather and last minute scramble for snow might well damage perceptions of the city as a reliable winter sports destination. (Why book a ski vacation there when snow might be unpredictable?) That would be a shame, but it wouldn’t be the first time that a big event had a negative effect on a city’s image.

Of course, yesterday’s tragic death of luge athlete Nodar Kumaritashvili only further decreases the chance that people will come away with a positive image of Vancouver after the games.