SBJ/May 7-13, 2012/Opinion

Lack of transparency in London troubling

While the Summer Olympic Games may be the world’s biggest media event, this year’s Olympics is, with its myriad venues around the U.K. capital, also a local story and the ultimate place for Londoners to be.

If only they believed they could get in the door.

From the perspective of those who want to buy tickets, this Olympics is shaping up as a contest in obfuscation. For all the massive effort behind staging the Games, the organizing committee won’t win any medals for transparency in the ticketing sales arena, even though that is precisely what the British public deserves and can have.

In late 2010, London 2012 suggested that out of 8.8 million Olympic tickets, 2.5 million would cost £20 or less (28 percent). The London Olympic Organizing Committee has refused to provide information to prove whether cheaper tickets were spread equally across all events, or concentrated in events such as soccer, where supply exceeds demand. The group has instead decided to keep the data private until the conclusion of the process.

LOCOG has been criticized for potentially damaging public trust by being unnecessarily secretive about ticket sales. In my view, such criticism is, unfortunately, on point. The data itemizing precisely how tickets have been allocated is available, but officials have chosen not to be transparent. The issue is not that the organizing committee members can’t provide a detailed analysis of approximately 7 million tickets that have already been sold for the 2012 Games. It’s that they’ve chosen not to, and it’s difficult to understand why.

The organizing committee says that 75 percent of all tickets will be sold to the British public, promising fairness and affordability in allocation and pricing. If they have the ticket allocation data and it supports what they claim, why not release it? Why not cut off public criticism (and there has been a good deal of it) before the outcry grows justifiably louder?

LOCOG’s critics, including the London Assembly, maintain that there is too much secrecy surrounding the allocation and pricing of tickets for the Games — which they claim is shutting out locals from purchasing tickets at affordable prices. Britons are footing the bill for the $14.6 billion London Games. At the very least, they deserve to know if they have a shot at getting tickets to the Games, especially for the men’s 100-meter final and other popular events. The data is available, even if the tickets are not.

London Assembly members want an accounting of how many tickets have been sold so far, and at what price, to determine if a disproportionate number of tickets have been sold at higher prices. The Assembly first asked for the information at the start of 2011. Other Olympic committees, including Sydney’s in 2000, were able to provide that kind of data in a timely fashion. Surely, given the advances in technology over the past 12 years, LOCOG has the capability to provide the analysis now.

With last week’s release of 1.4 million soccer tickets, Britons are finally getting an opportunity to purchase tickets for the Games. If LOCOG wants to regain trust from the people who are paying for the 2012 Olympics, the organizing committee needs to make the ticketing sales process completely transparent from here on.

Based on our experience, and that of Olympics past, an aversion to transparency signals bigger issues. Where there’s smoke, there is too often fire. I sincerely hope that’s not the case here and that this situation is just a matter of a poor expectation-setting. If that is indeed the case, my recommendation to the committee is to eliminate any cloud of suspicion and make the data available now. Transparency is the great disinfectant.

Tony Knopp is CEO and co-founder of SpotlightTMS (www.spotlighttms.com) and was formerly with StubHub and AEG.

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