27 Jul 2011

Beijing Bird’s Nest to white elephant?

The iconic Bird’s Nest stadium was the centrepiece of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. But three years later, its owners have struggled to raise the money to maintain it, Channel 4 News finds.

Beijing's Olympic stadium, the Bird's Nest, is struggling three years on from the games (Getty)

The Ai Weiwei-designed stadium is one of the enduring images of China’s 2008 Olympic triumph.

Known as the Bird’s Nest, it was seen as a sign of the country’s power and economic might. But its fortunes have not been so bright since the medals left the building and the fireworks ended.

In the three years since the Olympics, no permanent use has been found for the Bird’s Nest stadium.

On the first anniversary of the Olympics, there was a mass Tai Chi exercise, aiming to break the world record. Since then, the 90,000 seat stadium has played host to a pop concert by Jackie Chan, Formula One, and even a snow sports venue in the winter of 2010. Day to day tourism has been the stalwart cash generator for the stadium, with a charge of 50 yuan (less than £5) per person. There’s also a hotel and restaurant.

But none of these concepts have taken flight – leaving the Bird’s Nest more of a white elephant.

Bird's Nest as a snow dome (Getty)

Prohibitive costs

The costs of maintaining the intricate stadium are prohibitive. It used to be owned by CITIC Investment Holdings, but has now been taken over by new owners, the National Stadium Co. In 2010, they warned that the income from the building was not covering the cost of maintaining it.

Yang Cheng, deputy manager of the National Stadium Co, said: “The annual operations cost some 70 million yuan (£6.6m), which is hardly matched with ticket revenue.”

The Chinese Government has also interfered in the running of the stadium, hoping to make a greater profit, according to the China Daily newspaper.

The National Stadium Co is now leasing out parts of the stadium for sports events, press conferences, exhibitions and forums. It has also created a VIP sightseeing trail to attract more visitors, the newspaper reported.

In the past, it has been suggested that the impressive construction could become a shopping or entertainment complex. But for now, it continues to host events in a bid to keep the cash coming in.

October will see an American-style rodeo ride into the Bird’s Nest. But whether the Chinese will master the bucking fortunes of the iconic building itself remains to be seen – and could provide a valuable lesson for the organisers of London 2012.