VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- At points during and after Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir’s gold-medal performance at Pacific Coliseum Monday night, it felt like there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
But there were empty seats.
Empty seats? At an event where Canadians were going to win a gold medal, Americans likely to come in second and Russians third? By automatic fan base alone, Pacific Coliseum should have been standing room only.
But it wasn’t.
Of all the venues at the 2010 Games, Pacific Coliseum has been the worst for empty seats, though when I was at the SWE-FIN hockey game the other night, there were rows of unfilled spots as well. VANOC spokeswoman Renee Smith-Valade all but conceded defeat over getting the seats filled at Tuesday morning’s press briefing.
“The only venue where we have seen any issues, whether it is seats not being full, was in Pacific Coliseum. It is a bit of a unique venue in that we aren't seeing the same uptake [of tickets] from the print tribune [the seats reserved for the press] as in the Torino Games , and we're not seeing as many athletes in the seating areas [reserved to them]," she told reporters.
"The spectator area is always very full."
The issue at the Coliseum is a smaller version of the problem the Summer Games always face — when you have an event with multiple competitors, and the strongest ones aren’t on until the end, many people don’t show up until the last minute.
At Summer Games, it’s compounded by the way tickets are sold — instead of selling individual sessions of sports like basketball, it’s one ticket for a full day of competition. So people just go see the countries they like and ignore the rest.
There was a massive outcry during the Beijing Games about seats going unfilled, with fingers pointed both at regular fans and the IOC.
The press and athlete seats that Smith-Valade referenced are part of the 30 percent of tickets reserved for the Olympic family, which also includes sponsors, sports federation officials and IOC members. It’s those seats that often go unfilled, though a senior executive with VISA told me Tuesday morning that his company uses every single seat they buy, whether for contests or for corporate hosting.
VANOC had promised to do better in terms of filling all the seats at the Games.
It launched its own resale market (aka official scalper marketplace) in order to give fans a legit place to offload tickets they won’t use.
But when it comes to the IOC tickets, perhaps the onus needs to fall back on the IOC — get your guys in their seats by a certain point in the competition or allow that ticket to be sold to a regular fan.
No better way for the Olympic movement to reach out to ordinary people than by sitting right next to them.