Mon, September 23, 2013

Empty seats plague London Games

By BOB MACKIN, Special to QMI Agency


Soldiers sit in the empty seats held by the IOC as they watch the women's gymnastics qualification in the North Greenwich Arena during the London 2012 Olympic Games July 29, 2012. (MIKE BLAKE/Reuters)


LONDON - When private security contractor G4S failed to deliver all the staff promised for the airport-style security checkpoints, London Olympics organizers called the army.

When seats for Olympic events went empty on Day 1 of the Games, they also called the army. Local teachers and students, too, for help in putting bums in seats to avoid international embarrassment.

London 2012 chairman Sebastian Coe downplayed the Games’ latest controversy on Sunday, denying it’s “shambolic.”

“This is not something we should be extrapolating dramatically from the first day of an Olympic Games,” Coe said.

LOCOG officials did not have the latest ticket-sales figures available when asked at a Sunday news conference. Many seats in accredited zones of venues were empty and visible on the TV broadcasts of Saturday events. Coe said “sponsors are turning up,” but it is not uncommon for people to “figure out how and when they’re going to spend their time” in the first few days of the Games.

Ticketing problems have been evident since mid-July when LOCOG pulled 500,000 soccer tickets from sale because of slow demand, costing it $15 million in foregone revenue. LOCOG still forecasts $974 million of revenue from ticket sales. Tickets are only sold online by Ticketmaster and venue box offices are for pick-up only.

Jeremy Hunt, the United Kingdom’s Secretary of State for the Olympics, announced Sunday he would lead an inquiry with Coe.

“We are very keen that there should be an early solution and as many of those empty seats should be filled as early as possible,” said Colin Moynihan, the British Olympic Association chairman. Moynihan said those who don’t use seats shouldn’t be penalized.

“I don’t think applying sanctions to those who don’t take seats is the right way forward,” Moynihan said. “I think the right way forward is, when there are blocks of seats, where there are significant seats available, we find a way of getting the British public into them to support Team GB as soon as possible.”

Empty seats have been a problem at recently held Olympics and organizing committees have dealt with the problem in different ways.

At Beijing 2008, squads of factory workers dressed in yellow jackets and shirts were bussed from venue to venue to fill thousands of empty seats and told to cheer.

Vancouver 2010 opened a resale website and took a 20% commission on transactions. The program went awry when a group of Latvian criminals used stolen Visa credit card numbers and bought $2 million worth of tickets. Police eventually busted the crime ring. Vancouver 2010 sold 1.49 million of 1.6 million tickets available for the Winter Olympics, reporting $260.3 million in sales. About 60,000 tickets to events at snowboarding at Cypress Mountain and nordic events at Whistler Olympic Park were cancelled because of venue service and transportation problems.