Pyeongchang Venues Struggling With Low Event Attendance So Far
POCOG officials claim Olympic ticket sales are within 1% of their target of 90% sold out, but the scene at venues around Pyeongchang "tells a story far different from ... pronouncements of success," according to Tariq Panja of the N.Y. TIMES. Swaths of empty seats have been a "familiar backdrop despite organizers' efforts to fill in gaps by providing volunteers with so-called passion tickets that allow them to attend events and by bringing in school groups by the busload." Fans have been able to "show up right before the start of all but the most popular events and buy a ticket." Gold Medal-winning Norwegian alpine skier Aksel Lund Svindal described completing his winning run in the men's downhill on Thursday in front of a "mostly empty grandstand as 'a little bit strange.'" Panja notes the low attendance at the Games may be "partly attributed to the fact that South Korea does not have a culture of alpine sports." Local residents at Games in other countries have "packed venues to watch unfamiliar sports just to be a part of the experience," but that has "not happened here." Empty seats are "not a problem unique to the Pyeongchang Games," as organizers of both the '14 Sochi Games and '16 Rio Games also found themselves "under scrutiny as images of half-empty venues were beamed worldwide." Unused seats "reserved for sponsors and athletes were blamed then." Organizers are "doing the same here." Heightened political tension between North Korea and the U.S. in the "buildup to the Games did not help sales." Occasional ticketing and transportation mix-ups have also "caused venues to fill up only after events in them have started" (N.Y. TIMES, 2/16).
PULLING OUT ALL THE STOPS: The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Martin & Jun note POCOG is "blasting the airwaves with ads, hosting daily K-Pop concerts and asking local schools for help" with filling the empty seats. Local municipalities across Korea have "vacuumed up group tickets and offered them for free to residents." To attract fans, POCOG asked South Korea's Ministry of Interior & Safety, which "handles local-government affairs, to help." City officials is Seoul, which is about 120 miles away from Pyeongchang, said that they have "recently scooped up 42,000 tickets, with 25 local districts receiving batches to distribute on their own." The Seongdong district "recently received 1,800 of the city's tickets and distributed them to underprivileged or socially disadvantaged residents." Seongdong on Sunday will "bus the first group of 300 to a cross-country-skiing event in the Pyeongchang mountains." POCOG claims that no-shows are the "cause of many empty seats, as a significant chunk of tickets are earmarked for athletes, their families and sponsors" (WSJ.com, 2/16).
LACK OF EXCITEMENT: In Denver, Mark Kiszla writes "almost nobody showed up to the Yongpyong Alpine Center" for Friday's women's slalom event. There was a "grand total of 372 spectators, either sitting in the stadium or standing on the snow at the venue." Kiszla: "I know, because I counted each and every one of them. It wasn't difficult." The "nearly empty grandstands at a venue with capacity for 6,000 spectators" gave Mikaela Shiffrin’s quest for a second medal the "vibe of a jayvee football game." Kiszla: "I feel confident in saying: women’s skiing does not churn the locals’ butter. This is not Austria." At women's moguls, when the lone Korean competitor, Seo Jun Hwa, was "eliminated in the first round of the finals, paying customers immediately began streaming for the exits in droves, not caring to see who won the medals" (DENVER POST, 2/16).