Life After Olympics: Beijing’s Bird’s Nest
So imagine you have this fabulous stadium. It can hold 80,000 people, is one of the most visually impressive structures in the world, and is famous the world over. At $423 million, it was quite an investment as well. What would you do with it? Well, you’d start by hosting the 2008 summer Olympics, because you’d be China with their National Stadium – the “Bird’s Nest”. But what about after the Olympics? That is the pressing question China has faced since the end of the 2008 games – how to use this grandiose stadium and keep it profitable. Turns out its not so easy. Such a massive structure, in addition to its large initial cost, is expensive to maintain. You need big events that attract massive crowds on a regular basis to keep such as large venue in the green. Our biggest stadiums here in the U.S. are the product of the massive popularity of college and NFL football. While China thrives in many sports, there is nothing that has the massive spectator draw we see in professional sports across Europe and America. Spectator crowds a venue the size of Cowboys Stadium requires to stay afloat. There have been attempts. The opera Turandot, the 2009 Italian Super Cup, the 2009 Race of Champions, and even a friendly match of the Premier League have been hosted. But these events have been too far and few between for a stadium that costs an estimated $9 million per year to maintain. The Beijing Guo’an soccer team was to play there, but ended up declining. Their reason? They didn’t want their usual crowds of ~10,000 to be dwarfed by the 80,000 capacity stadium. So the Bird’s Nest, along with many building constructed in Beijing during the Olympic period, stays empty a lot. NPR recently ran a story on ongoing efforts to use the building, hosting modest tour groups and leasing out Segway rides around the track. During the winter they even took a shot at turning the venue into a temporary ski slope. A modest afterlife for the grand Olympic venue. Perhaps London’s Olympic Stadium can avoid a similar fate.