TECH AND MONEY

Organizers to blame for empty seats

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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Greg Couch

Greg Couch has been a national columnist at AOL Fanhouse and The Sporting News and an award-winning columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times. He was featured twice in "Best American Sports Writing" and was recognized by the US Tennis Writers Association for best column writing and match coverage. He covers tennis on his personal blog. Follow him on Twitter.

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LONDON

Olympic organizers are starting an investigation into why there have been thousands of empty seats at the London Games, when tickets to everything had pretty much been sold out.

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I’m going to make a prediction here: We’ll never hear about this investigation again. The truth is, there is only one piece of equipment needed to conduct this search:

A mirror.

When organizers look into it, the bad guy will be staring back. From the start, Olympic ticketing has been a scam to the average Joe, and now the scammers get to be judge and jury.

Sebastian Coe, Lord Coe, the former British Olympic great who is running these Games, said, “I don’t think naming and shaming is what we’re into at the moment.’’

No kidding. They are into avoiding naming, avoiding shaming. What they’re into is blaming.

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This is what happens when you take care of corporations, rich people and big-dollar sponsors at the expense of average Joe. Everyone does it. But you can go overboard. And you can try to set yourself up as the guardian of the little guy while acting on the big boys’ behalf.

That’s when people lose faith, get angry, grow suspicious.

Someone tweeted me: “soooooo many empty seats at Wimbledon for the tennis. It's killing me.’’

Another tweet: “pretty angry. Locog got alot of explaining to do. Everywhere it's been the same not only the tennis.’’

LOCOG is the organizing committee. It is actually blaming the people who have the tickets for not showing up.

But look, organizers went to great lengths to make it difficult for people to get tickets without risking more than they could afford — and to bully, threaten and intimidate ticket brokers.

They wanted complete control of all tickets. And they got it. So they are fully responsible for the type of people who got those tickets.

It’s already having an effect on the enthusiasm at the games. For weeks before the opening ceremony, I kept wondering why there was such pessimism in London about what was about to happen here. It seemed like a British culture thing.

Maybe more so, there was a feeling that the regular guy was being aced out. They had ticket lotteries, and Coe claims that 75 percent of the 8.8 million tickets went to regular people. But nearly everyone was disappointed. Fans were led to believe that they had to risk more and more money to improve their chances of getting tickets. So they pushed their budgets.

When things didn’t work out, it seemed like bad luck. Then, people saw huge blocks of empty seats on TV.

“To me,’’ a tennis fan tweeted me, “seeing all of those empty seats on Centre Court is ruining the experience a bit.’’

People were desperate to buy tickets. Disclosure: I was desperate to buy tickets for my family.

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Organizers have already dished out big fines to anyone selling tickets unofficially. Ticket brokers, that is.

A place called Prestige Tickets is an official seller. I asked to buy any gymnastics or beach volleyball tickets. They wrote back that they didn’t have my dates. What dates?

As I write this, I see beach volleyball and empty seats.

Tennis was interesting. I tried to buy on the official resale site, where people turn in tickets they got but suddenly don’t plan to use. But because I’m not European, I wasn’t allowed to buy.

Countries get a ticket allotment, and the US has used its up. Frankie Fredericks, chairman of the IOC athletes commission, suggested that I make friends with a Brit, and ask him to purchase tickets for me.

Really? That would be OK?

Still, the resale site showed that tennis tickets were sold out, even for Europeans. Yet the matches Saturday at Centre Court were half-empty.

It’s similar at swimming, gymnastics, handball, volleyball, badminton and other sports.

The opening ceremony didn’t sell out. At the last minute, organizers were trying to hand off extra tickets to off-duty security guards.

Coe started to say that the empty seats weren’t ones given to sponsors, but then an International Olympic Committee spokesman interrupted and said the empty seats are from a cross-section of people.

The claim now is that the unused tickets were given to Olympic family, meaning big shots from the games, officials from individual sports, athletes’ family and media.

“This is not an unfamiliar situation in the preliminary rounds,’’ Coe said. “There are thousands of people in the accredited areas trying to figure out how to divide their time. My day yesterday is a good example. I went to about four venues and only stayed for about an hour in each one.’’

Coe doesn’t get it. If this is a regular situation, and empty seats were expected, then why the investigation? And didn’t they just sell more tickets to average Joes for the first few days?

Coe defensively points out that the less expensive seats, with regular fans, are “stuffed to the gunnels.’’ Of course they are. Regular fans want to be there.

Meanwhile, Coe said that in gymnastics, organizers are giving tickets free to off-duty military personnel and to teachers and students, and that no one can complain about that.

Wrong. Seat-fillers aren’t good, even honorable ones, when you turned away so many regular people first.

Coe also said that they now are able to sell a few more tickets, and sold about 1,000 on Saturday. Who got to buy them? People already on the Olympics grounds.

In other words: You had to already have a ticket to buy more.

That doesn’t help average Joe. Not Mahesh Bhupathi, either. He’s a tennis player from India, who tweeted: “Been trying for 6 hours to buy my wife a ticket to watch me play tomorrow. Still no luck, and the grounds here feel empty. ABSURD!!!’’

It’ll surely be worked out in the investigation.

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