MSU students exploring business aspects of the Olympics

One Michigan State University associate director started a study abroad program to encourage her business students to think about what happens to a host city leading up to and following the Olympic Games. (Photo courtesy Sherri Henry)

EAST LANSING, Mich. - An average of 27.5 million people watched the Rio Games, according to NBC News.

While there may be millions of viewers, one Michigan State University associate director said not that many people think about what happens to a host city leading up to and following the Games.

MSU students are exploring the business aspects of the Olympics through a fairly new study abroad program started by Sherri Henri.

Henri has been working with the Eli Broad College of Business since 1995.

She has a passion for business and her other love is the Olympic Games.

"When I was in fourth grade, I told my dad I'd be going to the Olympics as a swimmer," Henri said. "I would swim, and I would swim, and I would swim every day."

While she didn't quite swim her way to the Olympics, that fire, that passion for the Games didn't go away.

"I went to Vancouver in July 2010 and they had just finished the Winter Games," she said.

Henri said she saw all of the great things that the Games brought to the towns of Vancouver and Whistler.

"That prompted me to think about how it related to business and how students could really learn," she added.

In 2010, she proposed the Business of the Olympics Study Abroad Program.

Two years later, her first group of students participated and went back to where her idea started.

"We don't go during the Olympics," she said. "It's really expensive to go and so as far as a business model we look at what was the business model before the Olympics, how did it change during the Olympics and what's the legacy, the model after the Olympics."

This model is something her business students said even they never thought about before their study abroad experience.

"I was in the majority of people who watched the Olympics that kind of forget about it afterward," senior Ryan Erdmann said. "My mind never wandered to what happened before."

Students said they learned about the realities that go along with hosting the Games.

One of the underlining themes was that city officials had a difficult time sticking to the budget.

“When you look at the Games, they always cost more than the host city ever realizes," Henri said.

For example, Sochi officials budgeted $10.3 billion for the 2014 Games and according to the Council on Foreign Relations, they ended up spending about $40 billion more than their set budget.

Through the program, they were able to see how cities like Sydney, Australia, made use of former Olympic venues after-the-fact, like the athlete's cafeteria.

"After the games, they installed kitchens in all the units, sold those as condos and then converted the cafeteria into a shopping center so now we have a whole new community," Henri said.

Students said they enjoyed talking to city leaders about the process.

“Instead of reading about it, I thought being able to ask the person questions first-hand… I thought that was pretty cool." one student said.

They also learned how some facilities, because of their size or specialized nature, often impose costs for years to come.

For example, Sydney's Olympic Stadium costs $30 million a year to maintain, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.

While Sydney may see some benefits, there are cities, like Rio, who are still paying but not benefiting as much from hosting the Games.

"In Rio, they weren't happy that the Olympics were there because it just makes that country more poor and now most of the venues aren't being used which is having an even greater impact," junior Ana Avalos said.

A lot of estimations and thinking ahead is what Henri said will determine a city's fate following the Olympics.

"It's a real art to understand how to make decision before the Olympics, so that after the Olympics your city benefits," she said.

As we get closer to the Games kicking off in PyeongChang, that city will be one in a long list of cities hoping to answer the question: did hosting the Games truly pay off?

Henri's students have been to four cities so far.

They will visit Sydney again this spring and are hoping to add London to the list in the near future.

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