If Games are sold out, why are seats empty?
When sponsors get tickets they can't or don't want to use, seats go unfilled
Seattle Times staff reporters
It happens at almost every Olympics, and might happen in Vancouver, as well: Fans who couldn't get tickets watch at home on TV, see large banks of empty seats, and ask an obvious, angry question:
How can that happen if the Games are sold out?
The answer, in a nutshell: Olympic organizers are required to sell a large number of tickets — in Vancouver, it's 30 percent — to sponsors, VIPs and Olympic officials. And sometimes those people simply fail to show up.
The result: embarrassing patches of empty, brightly colored arena seats, exposed to a global television audience of 3 billion to 4 billion people. It's not exactly the image a host city wants to project to the world. Yet it's exactly what happened at Games in Athens, Turin and Beijing.
The problem has gotten worse over time. Beijing's empty-seat debacle was the most glaring yet: Large banks of seats were seen in many arenas for "sold-out" events, even though members of the public had stood in line for hours in wilting heat just for a chance at a ticket.
It's anyone's guess why sponsors might not use their tickets. One possibility is that they're stuck with tickets they didn't really want.
Sponsors, some of which can request up to 250 tickets per day, get their tickets well in advance of the public.
But because most sponsors want tickets to the same overbooked premium events, they are cajoled by organizers into spreading their ticket buy to other, less-glamorous events. And contracts prohibit those groups from reselling unwanted tickets to scalpers.
Previous Olympic organizers have attempted to recoup unused sponsor tickets and offer them for quick resale — or even free distribution to schoolchildren or charities.
Vancouver will go to even greater lengths to avoid the empty-seat embarrassment, vows Dave Cobb, deputy CEO of Vancouver Organizing Committee (VANOC).
The committee wants any ticket a sponsor decides it doesn't need to go back into a pool for quick distribution. But officials haven't said how that will be accomplished.
VANOC plans to create a ticket-resale site for fans, an Olympic first. The site is expected to be up and running soon. But it's unclear whether sponsors and others who essentially got to cut in line to buy tickets will make their extras available there.
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