Mega Events and Urban Transformation

As we approach major sporting events like the 2024 NCAA college football championship in Houston and Super Bowl LVIII in Las Vegas, urban transformation initiatives and preparation for these events have come into focus. “There is perhaps no larger sports policy decision than the decision to host or bid to host a mega-event like the FIFA World Cup or the Summer Olympics.”1 Mega events have an interesting relationship with urban development and city clean-up events. Often viewed as catalysts, they can accelerate redevelopment and clean-up initiatives by nearly a decade (p 22).”2 These events can be controversial. They produce a huge amount of municipal solid waste,3 have been associated with displacing vulnerable populations,4 or even human rights violations,5 and can even be the cause of blight.6

This blog post is the second in our series exploring the external catalysts to city clean-up initiatives and redevelopment projects. This blog post explores news and academic articles covering the complexities of hosting mega events.

If you missed our first post in this series, check out High-Profile Political Events as A Catalyst for City Clean-Up Events.

Defining Mega Events

Mega events are “large-scale cultural (including commercial and sporting) events, which have a dramatic character, mass popular appeal and international significance.”7 The Olympics, World Cup, and Super Bowl are considered mega events due to the visitors they attract and the billions of dollars invested to prepare for the games. These large-scale events have broad socio-economic impacts on their urban hosts, often highlighting urban blight, urban decay, and city clean-up initiatives.

Aligning Urban Transformation Strategy & Mega Events

Hosting a mega event spurs significant urban transformations in the short term and can catalyze long-term transformations. The difference between successfully leveraging mega events for short and long-term gains has been the subject of increasing academic attention.

Traditionally, the short-term impacts have been the focus of media and research. This is due to the noticeable differences in the urban landscape. Clean-up crews tidy the streets, construction teams build or refurbish stadiums, and workers revitalize transportation systems. However, organizers often select hosts for mega-events up to a decade before the actual event. For example, the hosts of the Olympics is announced seven years in advance.8 Thus, the long-term impacts are a vital consideration for host communities.

Strategic development planning may commence years before the submission of the bid. As Sam Joffray, the architect of Las Vegas’ successful bid to host the 2024 Super Bowl, detailed in an interview: “The first step is the host city has to have a team and a stadium, and that big landmark occurred when the Raiders relocated here to Vegas. Then at that point, you’re allowed to be invited to bid…Las Vegas was invited to bid on the Super Bowl in 2021 at the beginning of the year.”9 The Raiders moved to Las Vegas in 2020, kicking off the opportunity for the city. Thus, the long-term impacts of mega events are an important part of their urban development story.

Mega Event Legacy and Emerging Academic Research

Researching the legacy of urban transformation and mega-events is complex. Some even consider measuring the impact of mega events as a ‘wicked problem‘ – a problem that is difficult or potentially impossible to solve for many reasons. Authors Byers, Hayday, and Pappous reject this unsolvability by focusing on mega events’ processes, generative social contexts, and their legacies. “[L]egacy delivery is inclusive of deep social structures which underpin different stakeholders’ interpretations and interactions, which produce or limit legacy delivery. The role of social, generative structures as causal mechanisms has not been considered as a way to understand legacy delivery previously.”10

Accelerated Urban Transformation

The long-term impacts of urban transformation due to mega events are the subject of researchers Harry Arne Solberg’s and Holger Preuss’s work. Solberg and Preuss define ‘long term’ as the period that starts with the announcement and ends at an undetermined future point, excluding the time immediately before, during, and right after the event.11

Solberg and Preuss find three positive effects of hosting a mega sports event:

  1. They bring in money that would not have been spent otherwise in and on the city.
  2. They can create a positive image and attract industry to the city.
  3. They can bring together local actors, creating new networks of productivity.

External pressures of the global gaze on a city often solve internal urban conflict. “Everybody fears negative effects on one’s image” because “the moment a city is chosen as a host city it suffers great time constraints.” The impact of the new alignment has an accelerating effect:

“Munich is said to have experienced a development thrust of 15-years during the six
years of the preparatory phase for the 1972 Summer Olympics. In the traffic sector,
projects that were to be realized in 1990 were finished a whole generation earlier
(Daume 1976; Geipel et al 1993). In Barcelona, urgent investments would not have
been carried out in such a short time at such an early stage without the Olympics. The
city gained ten years and the traffic problem, for example, was solved in only five
years (Garcia 1993: Cox et. al. 1994; Aeschimann 1991).”

Source: Solberg, H. A., & Preuss, H. (2004). THE LONG-TERM IMPACTS FROM MAJOR SPORTING EVENTS–MYTHS AND FACTS. The Economics and Management of Mega Athletic Events, 11. Link.

Typology of Legacies

A recent systematic review of mega events and their legacies explores a sample of 97 peer-reviewed publications. Knott and Tinaz observe an uneven distribution in the emerging academic literature across years of publication, host countries, and legacy types. The sample of publications evaluated included 44 publications on the FIFA World Cup. This is nearly double the number of publications discussing the legacy of the Olympic and Paralympic games. The focus on the legacy of FIFA hosts “clearly shows the impact of the 2010 FIFA World Cup (South Africa), the 2014 FIFA World Cup (Brazil); and subsequent mega-sport events in the following years that were held in emerging nations, such as the 2016 Olympic Games (Brazil), 2018 Olympic Games (South Korea), and 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cups (Russia and Qatar respectively).”12 Further, South Africa and Brazil each are the sole topics of 29 and 26 publications, respectively.

Pie chart displaying the types of legacies discussed across the sample of the 97 academic publications evaluated as part of the systematic review. Social legacy accounts for 31.7% followed by Political (17.3%), Economic and Infrastructure (each 11.5%), Sport (10.6%), and Image/Brand and Environment (8.7% each).
Source: Legacy Types from Knott, B., & Tinaz, C. (2022). The Legacy of Sport Events for Emerging Nations. Frontiers in Sports and Active Living, 4, 926334.

Finally, the types of legacies that received the most attention are social legacies, followed by political impacts, and then economic and infrastructure legacies.

Yet accelerated urban transformation doesn’t always have lasting positive effects. This post will now focus on the relationship between solid waste management, urban blight, and hosting mega events.

The Super Bowl and Urban Transformation

Every year, cities vie to host this high-profile event, recognizing the significant urban transformation, social and economic opportunities it brings for urban renewal and clean-up initiatives. The Super Bowl is more than just a sporting event. It is a catalyst for urban transformation. The 2024 Super Bowl in Las Vegas, Nevada, is expected to have between $500 million13 and $700 million economic impact, generating a “legacy impact” and requiring over 9,000 volunteers to support related events and activities.14

The Super Bowl and Waste Management

Host cities often undertake extensive clean-up and beautification projects to prepare for the Super Bowl. These efforts include revamping public spaces, improving transportation infrastructure, and addressing urban blight. The goal is to present a welcoming and pristine city to the influx of tourists, media, and football fans.

The effort is partly to put the city’s best foot forward and prepare for the massive influx and creation of municipal solid waste. In a 2014 study, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approximated that roughly 65 million professional and collegiate sports event attendees generated 19.5 tons of trash.15

LA, the 2022 Super Bowl host, has a significant and persistent problem with illegally dumping solid waste. The LA Department of Sanitation report on illegal dumping paints a bleak picture leading up to the Super Bowl. In this 2021 report, illegal dumping service requests increased by 450% between 2016 to 2020. Additionally, the illegally dumped solid waste picked up by City sanitation crews grew from an average of 766 tons per month in 2016 to 1,812 tons per month in 2020. Unfortunately, in 2020, the city drastically lacked the necessary staff to conduct the mandated audits of the 90,000 businesses and facilities required for inspection, suspected of contributing to 80% of the illegally dumped solid waste.

Root Causes of LA’s Illegal Dumping

Businesses and individuals are dumping increasing amounts of waste into the public right of way. Some blame the increasing costs of proper disposal, while others cite the lack of investigative and enforcement resources. According to the 2021 Bureau of Sanitation Report, illegal dumping “is the result of unscrupulous businesses and individuals failing to properly dispose of solid waste or hazardous waste, such as common trash, appliances, paint, construction and demolition waste, and used motor oil. Businesses that dump waste also gain an unfair competitive advantage over those that pay proper waste disposal costs.”

LA also has one of the largest populations of unhoused individuals in the US, a significant contributor to illegal dumping. Leading up to the big game day, the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) controversially moved homeless encampments closest to the SoFi Stadium. Caltrans administers Clean California, a statewide $1.2bn litter abatement program. (Read more about this program and its impacts on illegal dumping in California.) While California does have programs to support unhoused individuals, such as the $156 million Homekey initiative, resolving homeless-related issues, like illegal dumping, remains complex and challenging, especially as global attention focuses on LA as the 2028 host of the Summer Olympic Games.

Leveraging Technology in Waste Management

In 2023, the Super Bowl host city of Phoenix, AZ, expected over 2000 tons of food waste from the one-day event. Phoenix Public Works Department partnered with a composting startup to divert 90% of the expected 2000 tons of food waste from landfills into recycling systems.16 Additionally, Phoenix invested in depackagers – machines designed to remove recyclable packaging from compostable foods and sort them accordingly. In April 2023, two months post-Las Vegas’s 2024 Super Bowl host announcement, Allegiant Stadium launched an on-site waste management program. This program includes a composting program and biomass machine that can turn food waste, grass clippings, and more into viable soil in 24 hours.

Looking to accelerate your code enforcement by 500x? Check out City Detect’s AI-powered near-real-time reports.

The Super Bowl and Urban Blight

Post-event, cities often struggle to maintain newly developed infrastructure and repurpose temporary structures. There’s a growing focus on creating a lasting legacy from these clean-up initiatives, ensuring they contribute to long-term urban improvement beyond the game.

Atlanta hosted the 2019 Super Bowl in the Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The stadium took over 5 years to plan and three years to build, while the economic development commitment to the adjacent blighted Westside neighborhoods ranges from 10-20 year commitments. At the time, skeptical residents voiced concerns about the lack of change in their communities.17 Despite intentional efforts and investments by city officials and nonprofit leaders, absentee landlords remain a persistent roadblock to renewing and repairing the blighted neighborhoods of the Westside.18

Learn more about how City Detect’s custom, near-real-time blight reports can help your city detect, monitor and prioritize urban blight.

Atlanta is not alone in struggling with complex urban blight issues related and adjacent to mega event sports venues. Phoenix’s largest homeless encampment of 700 individuals was unpersuaded to relocate from the Capitol into shelters before the 2022 Super Bowl.19

The Olympics and Urban Transformation

The Olympics is the original mega event. This mega event is often touted as a “coming-out party” for developing nations.20 With investments often exceeding $10 billion, each host city faces unique challenges. The Games’ economic and developmental benefits include workforce skill development, career opportunities, tourism sector growth, global profile elevation, and diplomatic relationship building. The IOC anticipates the Paris 2024, LA 2028, and Brisbane 2032 Games will yield economic benefits of $12.2B, $18.3B, and $13.4B, respectively.

Some of these gains come directly from the millions of spectators. Even with COVID concerns looming, the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics hosted 150,000 in-person spectators and entertained over 2 billion digital and media spectators. The global broadcast spectators grew by 5% over the previous Winter Olympics. The 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea had an estimated 823,900 attendees21 and 1.92 billion broadcast spectators.22

Given the opportunities and costs, each host faces the challenge of improving the urban landscape and infrastructure.

The Olympics and Clean-Up Initiatives

Sydney (Summer Olympics in 2000) and Tokyo (Summer Olympics 2020) prioritized solid waste management. Tokyo and Sydney included solid waste city clean-up initiatives in their Olympic bids. Sydney’s Olympic bid included over 30 commitments to sustainably managing solid waste.23 Tokyo initiated a recycling campaign that erected a 24.5-ton recycled plastic podium as proof of their commitment to solid waste management before The Games.24 For Beijing in 2022, air pollution was the top priority. Beijing made huge investments to improve air quality leading up to the 2008 Summer Olympic Games and 2022 Winter Games.25

Water quality is the top priority for the Summer Olympic Games in Paris 2024. In preparation for the event and compliance with the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) sustainability goals, Paris has invested $1.5 billion in cleaning up the Seine River.26 This investment is in line with Paris’ broader goal to make the Seine more accessible to the general public by 2025, according to the deputy mayor in charge of sports, Pierre Rabadan.27

The Olympics and Urban Blight

Mockup of the newly developed Porte de La Chapelle Arena, one of the newly developed arenas for the Paris 2024 Summer Olympics.

The IOC’s sustainability goals go beyond cleaning up the Parisian waterways: 95% of the Olympic venues will be existing or temporary structures. Authorities will modernize or refurbish many of the existing structures.28 Refurbishment and modernization are helping the city tackle blight. For example, the newly developed Porte de La Chapelle Arena is under construction in neighborhoods infamous for blighted buildings and open-air drug markets. Hopes are high for the Porte de La Chapelle Arena to become the new cultural center of northeast Paris. Some residents, noting improvements, worry that relocating drug centers and lacking support merely shifts urban decay’s root.29 For before and after pictures, check out this article by Le Parisien.

Environmental sustainability and social development goals came sharply into focus when Beijing ordered the closure of 276 firms to improve air quality to meet 2008 IOC air quality standards. During the $20 million clean-up initiative, the authorities shuttered factories, including steelmakers, coke plants, cement firms, and power generators. Beijing residents benefitted from the cleaner air, but many lost jobs due to the business closures.

Complicating matters further is the Olympic legacy of one-time-use venues that have scarred the urban landscape. A quick search for abandoned Olympic venues deepens the bittersweet emotions of hosting the Olympics. The 1972 Munich Games, 1976 Montreal Games, and 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games epitomize the legacy of blighted Olympic venues.

Yet, the Olympic Games can be a strategy rather than an outcome of urban development policy. Barcelona demonstrated this leverage in the 1992 Summer Olympics:

“The majority of the initiated projects were not directly necessary for the Games themselves, but were meant to leave behind the greatest number of fully useful investments for after the Games. A distinction was made between organizational expenditures (for aspects not usable after the event) and project expenditures (usable after the event). The former category was the net cost of which nothing would remain afterwards, and for this reason, effort was made to minimise them. Investment expenditures were regarded as the legacy that should remain. For this reason, the effort was made to maximize them. (Botella 1993).”

Solberg, H. A., & Preuss, H. (2004). THE LONG-TERM IMPACTS FROM MAJOR SPORTING EVENTS–MYTHS AND FACTS. The Economics and Management of Mega Athletic Events, 11. Link.

The FIFA World Cup and Urban Transformation

Like the Olympics and Super Bowl, the FIFA World Cup presents opportunities and challenges for host cities. Prudent management of infrastructure investments is needed to avoid overburdening city resources. Escalating costs and debt risks from hosting the World Cup question its long-term economic viability. Like leveraging the Olympics, the World Cup has been a strategy to garner sustained international attention and political outcomes.20 Researcher Danyel Reiche is quoted in an NBC article on the topic:

“Qatar has a plethora of political objectives by hosting this event,” said Danyel Reiche, a visiting associate professor at Georgetown University in Qatar, who co-wrote the book “Qatar and the 2022 FIFA World Cup: Politics, Controversy, Change. Qatar has used soccer to “overcome the invisibility of a small state,” he added, allowing it to “become more influential in international affairs.”

Source: Why Qatar may see the World Cup as a win despite off-field criticism and on-field failure
The real spoils of the tournament for the gas-rich Gulf peninsula may be the satisfied visitors, business deals and international recognition that could lead to greater national security

The World Cup and City Clean-Up Initiatives

As demonstrated with the Super Bowl, solid waste management is an increasingly important aspect of bidding and hosting mega-events. Both the preparation, hosting, and aftermath of events can generate a significant amount of solid waste. If plans are not in place, this waste can easily clutter public rights of way and pollute the environment. Qatar took a data-driven approach to managing solid waste plans for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. The region’s first behavioral insights unit helped design data-driven, solid waste interventions tested in 2020. Interventions ranged from workforce training to strategic waste receptacle placement.

The 2022 FIFA World Cup reported gains in diverting waste from landfills in various areas of the games. Construction, however, remains one of the largest contributors to solid waste. An estimated 70%-80% of total solid waste from the tournament was attributable to construction. However, significant improvements were made. “On average, 79% of construction waste was diverted from landfill. During tournament time, 77% of the waste from stadium operations was recycled or composted, and 55% of waste from other tournament sites, such as the FIFA Fan Festival™ in Qatar, Tournament Headquarters and the Main Media Centre was recycled.”

FIFA World Cup and Blight

As with most mega-events, a bid & voting process selects the host location(s). In 2010, Qatar was announced as the 2022 FIFA World Cup host. The opportunity accelerated urban redevelopment in Qatar, specifically in Doha.31 In 2012 -2013, researchers interviewed Qataris about the status of the urban landscape and found “that poor maintenance and facilities overuse reduced property value and led to urban blight. Due to the rapid development, change of lifestyle and introduction of new commercial forms (e.g., shopping centers, indoor facilities), Doha´s old center in Wadi Mushayrib has continuously lost its former economic and social significance to the vast part of population.”32 A redevelopment plan was implemented, and demolition and reconstruction began to prepare for the FIFA World Cup and meet downtown Doha’s changing economic and social demands. While the upcoming mega event accelerated developments, these changes were part of the Qatar National Vision 2030, launched in 2008. Hosting the FIFA World Cup was part of Qatar’s larger development strategy of urban transformation.


This blog post approached each type of mega event separately. However, the events do not operate in a vacuum; they are often clustered. For example, Brazil hosted the 2007 Pan American Games, the 2014 FIFA World Cup, and the 2016 Summer Olympics. These major and mega sporting events marked a notable shift in urban strategic development. Before 2007, Brazil had not hosted a major international sporting event since the 1950 World Cup.33

Mega events present a complex array of opportunities and challenges for urban redevelopment. While they offer potential for significant infrastructure improvement, the financial implications are increasingly coming to the forefront. Cities can use mixed reality tools for more balanced, data-driven decisions as they understand these complexities. The future of mega events may trend towards caution, focusing on equitable urban development for all stakeholders.

Looking for a partner in identifying and analyzing urban decay? Contact City Detect today or learn more about our AI-powered Blight Reports and interactive dashboards.

Mega and major sporting events must align with stakeholder-informed urban development strategies. Academic journals in tourism and sports management highlight the risks of hosting such events. A positive, long-term legacy is not certain. Bidding for events should align with urban redevelopment strategies. This approach unites varied parties and speeds up change. Mega events are not a cure-all for urban decay and blight. Mega events cannot be relied on as a panacea but must be part of a larger stakeholder and data-informed urban transformation strategy.

Further Reading & Works Cited

  1. Barrios, Douglas; Russell, Stuart; Andrews, Matt. “Bringing Home the Gold? A Review of the Economic Impact of Hosting Mega-Events.” Center for International Development at Harvard. 2016.  ↩︎
  2. Solberg, H.A., and Preuss, H. The Long-term Impacts from Major Sporting Events – Myths and
    Facts. in Gregory T. Papanikos (Ed.) The Economics and Management of Mega Athletic Events: Olympic Games, Professional Sports, and Other Essays (pp.11-26). Athens Institute for Education and Research.  ↩︎
  3. Golzary, A; Zafari, Z. (2023) From Spectacle to Sustainability: Navigating Waste Management Challenges in Mega-Sporting Events of the Modern Era. ↩︎
  4. Opinion: Paris continues a shameful Olympic tradition ↩︎
  5. Qatar: Hundreds of migrant workers employed as security guards at FIFA World Cup denied justice for abuses ↩︎
  6. Legacy of Rio Olympics So Far Is Series of Unkept Promises ↩︎
  7. Roche, Maurice. (2006). Mega-events and modernity revisited: Globalization and the case of the Olympics. Sociological Review. 54. 27-40. ↩︎
  8. IOC gives more time to pick 2030 Olympic host, studies rotating Winter Games ↩︎
  9. Exclusive: Meet the man responsible for the bid that brought Super Bowl LVIII to Las Vegas  ↩︎
  10. Byers, T., Hayday, E., & Pappous, A. (. (2020). A new conceptualization of mega sports event legacy delivery: Wicked problems and critical realist solution. Sport Management Review, 23(2), 171-182. ↩︎
  11. Solberg, H.A., and Preuss, H. The Long-term Impacts from Major Sporting Events – Myths and
    Facts. in Gregory T. Papanikos (Ed.) The Economics and Management of Mega Athletic Events: Olympic Games, Professional Sports, and Other Essays (pp.11-26). Athens Institute for Education and Research. ↩︎
  12. Knott, B., & Tinaz, C. (2022). The Legacy of Sport Events for Emerging Nations. Frontiers in Sports and Active Living, 4, 926334. ↩︎
  13. ↩︎
  14. Exclusive: Meet the man responsible for the bid that brought Super Bowl LVIII to Las Vegas ↩︎
  15. Thomas J. Grant Jr., Green Monsters: Examining the Environmental Impact of Sports Stadiums, 25 Vill.
    Envtl. L.J. 149 (2014). ↩︎
  16. Super Bowl Parties Produce Tons of Trash. Phoenix Is Hoping to Fix That ↩︎
  17. Opinion: New stadiums, hosting Super Bowl isn’t near Atlanta’s biggest revitalization challenge ↩︎
  18. Westside revitalization stunted by absentee landlord ‘deadlock’
  19. As Super Bowl Fans Arrive, Phoenix Seeks to Present a New Face ↩︎
  20. Barrios, Douglas; Russell, Stuart; Andrews, Matt. “Bringing Home the Gold? A Review of the Economic Impact of Hosting Mega-Events.” Center for International Development at Harvard. 2016.  ↩︎
  21. 2018 Winter Olympics ↩︎
  22. Olympic Winter Games Global TV Audience/Viewership 2010-2018,cumulative%20audience%20of%201.92%20billion. ↩︎
  23. Making Olympic History ↩︎
  24. Tokyo 2020 Collects 24.5 Tonnes of Used Plastic for Creation of Victory Ceremony Podiums ↩︎
  25. Heavy smog blankets Beijing ahead of Olympics as authorities pledge to clean up the air ↩︎
  26. The Seine’s Starring Role in the Paris 2024 Olympic Games ↩︎
  27. Paris is cleaning up the Seine in preparation for the 2024 Olympic Games ↩︎
  28. ↩︎
  29. Next year’s Olympics are pushing Paris to confront crack cocaine use on city streets and PORTE DE LA CHAPELLE ARENA ↩︎
  30. Barrios, Douglas; Russell, Stuart; Andrews, Matt. “Bringing Home the Gold? A Review of the Economic Impact of Hosting Mega-Events.” Center for International Development at Harvard. 2016.  ↩︎
  31. Scharfenort, N. (2013). In Focus n° 1: Large‑Scale Urban Regeneration: A New “Heart” for Doha. Arabian Humanities. Revue internationale d’archéologie et de sciences sociales sur la péninsule Arabique/International Journal of Archaeology and Social Sciences in the Arabian Peninsula, (2). ↩︎
  32. Ibid. ↩︎
  33. Wise, N., & Hall, G. (2017). Transforming Brazil: Sporting mega-events, tourism, geography and the need for sustainable regeneration in host cities. In Sport, events, tourism and regeneration (pp. 24-39). Routledge. ↩︎

Gavin Baum-Blake

Gavin Baum-Blake is an army veteran and seasoned entrepreneur with a background in startup law. As the Co-founder and CEO of City Detect, he leads the charge in revolutionizing urban analysis using AI and computer vision technologies. His expertise in identifying urban challenges, such as blight, housing decay, and illegal dumping, has positioned City Detect as a leader in technological innovation, evidenced by numerous awards and pitch competition victories. With a background in law, he ensures that their advanced solutions adhere to the highest ethical and legal standards. An avid traveler, his global experiences enrich his dedication to fostering smarter, safer, and more sustainable cities through technology. Contact Gavin to learn how City Detect can help transform your city.