SBD/July 30, 2012/Olympics

Empty Seats An Early Focus At London Games; Coe Insists Attendance Is Not An Issue

IOC is "urgently investigating" why there were rows of empty seats at some venues
LOCOG Chair Sebastian Coe yesterday insisted that most Olympic venues "were full of spectators as organisers faced a growing storm over blocks of empty seats at several venues," according to Robin Millard of the AFP. LOCOG and the IOC said that they were "urgently investigating why there were rows and rows of unoccupied seats at venues including Wimbledon for the tennis and the Aquatics Centre, while British police were reportedly probing an alleged black-market scandal." The sight of unoccupied seats "has sparked anger in Britain." Coe said that unoccupied seats "at some venues were due to accredited officials still working out which events to attend and planning their timetable." But he added that he "had visited four events on Saturday which were full to capacity." Coe said that LOCOG was "urgently seeking ways of filling any empty seats," and that soldiers involved in the security operation "were given spare seats at gymnastics events on Sunday morning." Students and teachers from east London "were also allocated seats at some unfilled venues." U.K. Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt "admitted the empty seats were 'very disappointing' and suggested they could be offered to members of the public." Hunt: "I was at the Beijing Games, in 2008, and one of the lessons that we took away from that, is that full stadia create the best atmosphere, it's best for the athletes, it's more fun for the spectators, it's been an absolute priority" (AFP, 7/29). Coe said that it was "not 'uncommon' in the first few days of an Olympics to have empty seats as 'accredited' ticket-holders worked out their daily schedules." Coe: "It's certainly not going to be an issue right through the games" (FINANCIAL TIMES, 7/30). CBS’ Mark Phillips said, “Looking around the venues today ... a lot of the places do seem full, so maybe that problem will go away” (“CBS This Morning,” CBS, 7/30).

FAMILY MATTERS: The GUARDIAN's Gibson & Booth noted the British Olympic Association "has weighed into the mounting row over empty seats, insisting that every one should be filled with home fans and suggesting a '30-minute rule' for non-attendees." BOA Chair Colin Moynihan said organizers "owe it to the fans" to find a way of filling empty seats. Moynihan: "We owe it to the British sporting public to give them an opportunity to attend one of the most historic sporting events of their lives." Gibson & Booth noted it is believed the empty seats "are mainly those reserved for the 'Olympic family', made up of International Olympic Committee officials, National Olympic Committees, international federations and some sponsors." Those seats "make up 5%" of the 8.8 million overall allocation (GUARDIAN, 7/29). In London, Rosa Prince reports former London Olympics Minister and LOCOG BOD member Tessa Jowell has called on Coe to "ensure sports fans are given tickets for empty venue seats 'today.'" She called on Coe, "who had promised that there would be no empty seats at the London Games, to use his 'muscle' to insist that sporting federations and other members of the the so-called 'Olympic Family' do not leave their ticket allocation unfilled." Jowell said, "The IOC have got to be part of the solution to this particular problem, these accredited seats remaining empty" (London TELEGRAPH, 7/30). The London TELEGRAPH offers a look at the crowds at various venues during yesterday's competition (London TELEGRAPH, 7/30).

ON THE UPTICK
: Coe after a tour of some venues yesterday said that "there was 'barely a seat left in the house' at beach volleyball and swimming competitions." He said that "early reports Sunday at the gymnastics venue, where there were blocks of empty seats Saturday, indicated improvements." USA TODAY's Kevin Johnson notes at the basketball venue yesterday, the upper bowl "was fairly packed, but there were some empty seats in the lower bowl for the Brazil-Australia game." The stands "were completely full for women's team archery at historic Lord's Cricket Ground on Sunday, despite light rain." Eton Dorney rowing venue Manager Cora Zilich "estimated the Saturday crowd at 30,000," although the capacity is listed at 25,000 (USA TODAY, 7/30). NBC News' Chris Jansing reported for events "where tickets weren’t required, like women’s road cycling, stormy weather didn’t stop huge crowds” (“Nightly News,” NBC, 7/29).

NO BLAME PUT ON SPONSORS: IOC Communications Dir Mark Adams said it is "completely wrong to say this is a sponsors issue" (GUARDIAN, 7/29). Coe said, "It doesn't appear to be a sponsor issue. Sponsors are turning up" (BBC.co.uk, 7/30). The AP noted Olympics sponsors Coca-Cola and Visa claimed that they "gave away most of their seating quotas to the public in promotional offers." Coca-Cola said its competition allowed prize winners "to choose the event they really wanted to attend" (AP, 7/29). In London, Andrew Johnson cited a corporate sponsor as saying that Olympic family members "had been allocated four or five tickets for the same time and had to decide which event to turn up to." The sponsor said, "There are people with tickets for five venues at the same time" (London INDEPENDENT, 7/29).

PARENTS DENIED ACCESS
: In London, Jacquelin Magnay reports some parents and friends of swimmers "have been refused access into the aquatics centre over the past two nights ... while other parents have had hours of angst trying to sort tickets at the last minute." Parents also have "missed tennis matches at Wimbledon and only been able to get into Eton Dorney for the rowing and Excel for the boxing after fraught negotiations." The parents and friends ticket program "entitles every athlete to buy two tickets for each session in which they compete." But the Ticketmaster system used by LOCOG to administer the program "has not been able to update in time for each final -- detaling which athletes are eligible to puchase the tickets" (London TELEGRAPH, 7/30). Kuwaiti swimmer Faye Sultan tweeted, "Empty seats at the Olympics?!! And my parents can't get tickets to watch me swim?! Ridiculous" (LONDON TIMES, 7/30).

SUCCESS STORY
: In L.A., Stacy St. Clair wrote London's ExCeL Centre "has been transformed into a lower-profile sports buffet for the 2012 Games." Seven Olympic events -- boxing, fencing, judo, table tennis, taekwondo, weightlifting and wrestling -- will "take place here over the next fortnight with an estimated 1.2 million spectators passing through the arena's doors." Many of those ticket holders "will have no clue what they're watching," and, if the first official day of competition "was any indication, they'll be fine with that." The arena "offers a chance to see an Olympic event in person, and that's what counts." Boxing, fencing, judo, table tennis and weightlifting "all held competitions at ExCeL on Saturday over a crowded, but oddly intimate, 14-hour period" (L.A. TIMES, 7/29).
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