London Games will be one tough ticket
Mark this down as a certainty: Tickets for the 2012 Summer Olympic Games will be among the most difficult to come by in sports history.
Thanks to an unprecedented effort by British Olympics officials to ensure that only those who purchased tickets will use them, the way the world goes about trying to get into the 2012 Games comes down to this: If you don't already have tickets, your odds of getting them are now very, very slim.
"This will undoubtedly be one of the most coveted tickets in the history of sports," said Darryl Seibel, a spokesman for the British Olympic Association.
Implementing a policy that takes a page out of Miley Cyrus' playbook as much as it addresses security issues, the London Organizing Committee, which is responsible for overseeing ticket distribution, says every ticket sold in the United Kingdom will include the name of the person who bought them.
"The name of the purchaser is on every single ticket," said Joanna Manning-Cooper, a spokesman for the London Organizing Committee. "The only legal way to sell that ticket if you no longer want it is through an official resale platform that we will launch next year, and it will be an online website that allows you to sell it only at face value. So, if you bought yourself eight tickets and want to take seven members of your family you still have to be there at the turnstile."
That's right: 75 percent of the world's Olympic tickets cannot be bought from a scalper, a colleague from the office or a friend. Instead, most tickets worldwide (priced from about $35 to thousands of dollars for the opening ceremony) have been distributed by a lottery system.
In Britain and the United States, the winners and losers of those ticket lotteries have already been notified. In Britain alone, 22 million requests poured in for only 6.8 million tickets.
If any of the lucky Brits who snagged the coveted spots change their mind, they'll have to resell those tickets back to organizing committee — which will in turn distribute them to those who failed to secure tickets last time around.
While British Olympic officials insist the policy is aimed entirely at eliminating scalpers, security experts say there's another ploy at play: Adding an element of safety to an international sporting event that has been a target of international terrorism since the 1972 Munich Games and that is in a country that has struggled with homegrown terrorist attacks.
"Security is not the one thing you do and you're then totally secure. It's a mix of things," said cyber and counter-terrorism expert Peter Sommer of the London School of Economics. "And that's one of the things you can do. And it's computerized, so you can print out individual tickets with people's names on them and look for the verification."
The policy also means most tickets are already spoken for, many that come available will go to someone who's already signed up for the lottery and that most of those tickets will require that the purchaser be on hand when they go through the turnstiles next summer.
That means so much for spiriting away to some quiet corner in a pub in London or to the shadow of one of its Olympic venues hoping to trade some hard-earned cash for a ticket or two.
"We've done this to protect the public from touting, which is illegal in the UK," Manning-Cooper said.
For Americans, there's two ways to land tickets going forward.
The first is the hope that, once the organizing committee finalizes their seating arrangements, some extra seats are discovered and America is allocated some of them (you can sign up to be notified by email in the event this happens at www.CoSport.com).
The second reason to remain positive is a loophole that, while not erasing the difficulty in getting tickets, will at least give Americans much better odds at getting their hands on tickets than their British counterparts.
While America's 2012 Olympic tickets have already been allocated, the names of purchasers will not appear on them. Instead these words will grace them: "USOC."
Meaning American tickets will indicate they came through the United States Olympic Committee.
In London next summer, gate agents can, and sometimes will, require proof that you are indeed from the country stamped on your ticket.
So, a word to the wise, experts say: Beware of websites selling Olympic tickets you can't use. If you're British, you need the purchaser there with you to get in. If you're American, you need to be sure the ticket you get says "USOC" on it.
Still, the fact that non-British tickets will not have purchaser's names on them could create a security loophole for all of the one million tickets that are distributed to national Olympic committees worldwide. Those tickets are stamped only with the name of the country in which the ticket is issued.
"I think you highlight a possible gap," Sommer said. "It may be one thing to say you're a US citizen, but I assume there will be people coming from all over the world, including certain countries where one is a little bit worried. If they don't have their names on them then it would undoubtedly be a great weakness.
"Obviously, we have home grown terrorists, but you also have to allow for people coming from abroad," he said.
That also means Americans can technically purchase tickets from other Americans in the secondary ticket market. But the pool of tickets allocated to Americans is a slim 58,000 — or three percent — of all currently available. So, if you want to scalp your way to the Games, be ready to stand on the wrong side of supply and demand.
And don't get caught.
"The terms and conditions certainly are very clear that resale is not permitted, though you can Google Olympic tickets and find what you find," said Mark Lewis, president of JetSetSports, the parent company of CoSport, which distributes Olympic tickets in the United States. "But the terms are very clear, so people need to be mindful of that."
This policy of putting purchasers' names on tickets is the latest salvo in an ongoing battle between those who sell tickets to the public and those who would prefer to buy them and make some money on the side in the resale market.
Which brings us back to Miley Cyrus.
"This exact thing has been done by our favorite Miley Cyrus," said Greg Nortman, vice president of business development for PrimeSport, a ticket broker for sporting events including the Super Bowl, Masters, NFL and US Open Tennis.
"During a tour two years ago, the person who bought the ticket had to attend," Nortman said. "So, if you wanted to send your kids you had to go with them. To a certain extent it did curtail sales, because the broker, the people who take positions professionally, were curtailed. It was really groundbreaking when it happened."
So is the fact, 11 months before the 2012 Games begin, that a huge chunk of the world's tickets are not only sold, but sold in a way that makes it very unlikely you could get one if you chose.
"It's largely to protect customers from the touts," Morning-Cooper said. "We wanted to make sure we got them into the hands of people who want them for themselves and who did not want them to sell around."
It's not a perfect system. One could buy tickets in England and enter with the purchaser. Those coming from other countries can buy tickets from sellers with tickets from their home countries and have no problem.
But this is much is clear: The Brits have a taken a huge step forward in changing how sports tickets are acquired, and everyone — from fans to potential terrorists to scalpers — will be affected one way or another.
"It's a balancing act," Nortman said, "between protecting fans and making it easy for them to go and to transfer their ticket if they can't go."
You can follow Bill Reiter on Twitter or email him at email@example.com.