Visit Salt Lake Vice President of Sales Mark White acknowledges the 2002 Winter Olympics are ancient history to many people under 30 years old. But the games’ effect, both economically (an estimated $5 billion) and in terms of publicity ($200 million in media exposure), makes them relevant 15 years later. Ironically, White says a majority of sporting events to come to Salt Lake since then have been of the summer variety—proof efforts marketing the city as a year-round destination are working. As the region celebrates this month’s anniversary of the 17 days Salt Lake was the center of the sports world, White discusses how the Olympics play into the destination’s past, present and future.
What are your lasting memories of the Olympics?
It was one of the most magical experiences one could ever expect, and then the day after, it was like postpartum depression. We had this incredible party and we looked at each other said, “Now what?”
From a big-picture perspective, how would you describe the games’ impact?
It made people aware Salt Lake is a viable city with a real-life airport and infrastructure that could accommodate events, whether they be conventions or athletic events. It did that, but it also impressed upon on our community leaders how important these events can be, whether it’s the Olympics or a convention or a smaller amateur athletic event.
How about from the practical side?
We got $200 million of media coverage leading up to and during the games. To put that in perspective, our organization’s annual budget is $11 million. We could not afford that kind of exposure, nor could the state of Utah. The ski industry is the single biggest beneficiary, and you can understand why, but it served as a springboard for many other things, like recreational facilities. It created a lot of infrastructure, like our light-rail system, that probably would have been built at some point but got fast-tracked then. Our freeways were expanded, and so with that came additional development with other businesses like Goldman Sachs moving out here. It’s hard to put a specific number that says the Olympics did this for our community, but it’s certainly significant.