Sponsors have some explaining to do

Rick Horrow discusses ticket issues and empty seats at the Olympics.
Rick Horrow discusses ticket issues and empty seats at the Olympics.
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Liz Claman

Liz Claman joined FOX Business Network (FBN) as an anchor in October 2007. She hosts "Countdown to the Closing Bell" (3 p.m. ET) in addition to co-anchoring "After the Bell" (4 p.m. ET) with David Asman. A graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, Claman was a news associate for KCBS-TV (CBS) in Los Angeles where she was the youngest person in the station's history to win a local Emmy Award for Best Spot Producer. Follow Claman at FOX Business and on Twitter.



When I say I was on the ground four minutes before I started hearing the business gossip, that in and of itself may even be an understatement.

Empty seats have been a source of controversy and disappointment early on in the 2012 Olympics.

Jon Super

It was all smiles and “sleep suits” (aka pajamas) on my Virgin Atlantic flight last night, but the moment my feet hit terra firma at London’s Heathrow Airport and I laid eyes on the Accenture and Coca-Cola curtains swathing the walk to Customs, both my phones started ringing with word of empty seats — GREAT SEATS! — at nearly all the most popular venues.

Word is, some 500 seats were empty as US rivals Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte took to the water on Saturday. The first session of men’s basketball had a huge chunk of lower-tier (read: best) seats go unfilled. And I’m sorry, isn’t gymnastics supposed to be one of the hottest tickets? Two major chunks of seats may as well have had crickets sitting in them. Not the players, but the insects. Chirp. Chirp.

Who’s to blame? The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our Olympic stars but in our sponsors, say critics. The International Olympic Committee has 11 top sponsors who pay big bucks for the rights to slap their logos everywhere.

That, these companies believe, translates directly to millions in sales. Heck, Procter & Gamble, a USOC sponsor, is saying it believes its affiliation this year will rake in half a billion dollars directly attributable to the glow the Olympics will bestow on its products. The biggest sponsors get handed sheaths of tickets to distribute any way they please. You can bet most go to their top clients. Think of it as a corporate palm-greasing.


Track all of the athletes' juicy Twitter messages at our Olympics social media hub.

There is nothing wrong with this. Until, of course, the clients don’t show up.

Right now, as I peck this out at our Sports studios in the London borough of Stratford, there is an investigation under way by the London 2012 organizers into which companies owned the empty seats and why the recipients didn’t show up.

Top IOC sponsors, including Samsung, McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Acer, Visa, Panasonic and Omega, may have some “esplaining” to do. We’re hearing Olympic organizers are even considering a 30-minute rule. If the seat remains empty 30 minutes into an event, it’ll be given away to a hopefully appreciative recipient.

Lord Sebastian Coe, who heads up the London Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games, better come up with something soon, other than his quick defense of the sponsors or his Band-Aid solution of filling empty seats with military personnel and students.

Either way, some real Olympic veterans are rolling their eyes about the controversy. I ran into six-time gold medalist and analyst Amy Van Dyken in the green room. Van Dyken, who won her first gold medal in Atlanta in 1996, said, “Of course it’s the sponsors’ clients not showing up, but this always happens.”

Van Dyken said that, for some reason, critics are picking out issues this Olympic year that have been around forever.

“Everyone’s freaking out that Michael Phelps didn’t show up for opening ceremonies. Guess what? Swimmers never march in the ceremony. We swim the next morning. We all go to sleep. I never went to one opening ceremony.”

TOMORROW: Don’t miss my panel I will be moderating called “The games behind the Games: How Twitter is jumping NBC’s score gun.”

Tagged: Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte

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