LOCOG, federations move to fix ticket issues, empty seats

Olympic organizers and sports federations on Monday moved to eliminate the controversy around empty VIP seats at Olympic events, putting more than 3,000 tickets from accredited sections up for public sale Sunday night.

The move came less than a day after blame began to be heaped on sponsors for not filling vacant, premium seats on the first day of sports competition. The criticism, which came from the press, public and politicians, frustrated many sponsors and led some to consider putting out press releases about their ticketing process.
Sponsor executives, who declined to speak on the record because of the sensitivity of the issue, were frustrated because the empty seats were in accredited seating sections reserved for international federations, national Olympic committees, coaches, umpires, sponsors and IOC members. Compared to previous Games, the London VIP allotment is down 15 percent at this Olympics from previous Summer Games.

Olympic sponsors have spent millions in marketing their brands around the Games and are extremely sensitive to anyone pointing the finger at them about ticketing, said Michael Payne, a sports consultant and the former head of the International Olympic Committee’s marketing division. Empty seats are always an issue the first few days of any Olympics, and he expects organizers to have it figured out in London by the fourth day of the Olympics.

“The only criticism is LOCOG (the London Olympic Organizing Committee) had so many tickets to sell that they played up demand and did not manage public expectations that a few tickets might come back,” Payne said.

LOCOG Chair Sebastian Coe has encouraged the public to keep perspective. He said 8 percent of tickets had gone to sponsors, while 75 percent had been given to the British public.

“I was aware this was an issue that was bubbling up yesterday, but let’s put this in perspective,” Coe said Sunday. “Those venues are stuffed to the gunwales. The public are there. I went to three or four different venues yesterday and we broke records on the road race course, rowing and cycling.”

In addition to asking federations to return tickets they don’t plan to use, LOCOG plans to begin selling extra press seats in the venues. Organizers said they will continue to sell tickets on an event-by-event basis.

“We are trying everything we can to make sure those accredited seats are filled where we can,” said LOCOG spokeswoman Jackie Brock-Doyle. “We are really doing the best we can, but it is not an exact science.”

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