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RIO DE JANEIRO – There are blocks of empty seats at nearly every venue at the Rio Olympic Games, and in some cases entire empty sections. They’re evident to those who actually attend the events, and they’re evident to those watching the Rio Games around the globe on television.
Has this tarnished the positive message put forth by organizers?
“It has not,” said Christophe Dubi, IOC director of sports. “We have a lot, lot, lot of sessions that are absolutely full.”
The Rio Olympic organizers have presented a number of reasons for the empty seats since the Games began. They’ve included:
– Tickets that were purchased by scalpers that are then cancelled and recycled after those scalpers were arrested.
– Food shortages at venue concession stands, for items like salads, and the fact that fans leave the venues to eat and then come back.
– Olympic sponsors distributing tickets, and those tickets going unused.
– An intense local focus by Brazilian fans, who leave venues after Brazilian teams and athletes compete even if there are more events scheduled.
On Sunday, organizers offered a new explanation for empty seats at venues within the Olympic Park: Fans buying tickets to events just to see the Park, and then never attending the event.
“We also noticed, in the last two days, that people who buy tickets to a given event, their main interest is to come and enjoy the [Olympic Park] and be here, rather than attend an Olympic event,” said Mario Andrada, Rio 2016 spokesman.
Now, this might sounds a little odd: Why pay for a ticket and then not attend an event? Especially just to enter the Olympic Park, which outside of a giant merchandise store and a McCafe isn’t exactly bursting at the seams with attractions for fans?
But that’s forgetting one big factor, as we’ve learned from the locals here in Rio: Many of these fans are buying steeply discounted tickets from scalpers, brokers and regular folks around the Olympic Park. And when you’re paying 60 percent of face value, you don’t feel as much obligation to attend the event, especially if it’s not a sport in which a Brazilian athlete or team is challenging for a medal.
The IOC reports that 5.7 million tickets have been sold, with 800,000 still to be sold.
“We believe the attendance, while we do see some [empty] pockets at the bigger events, we’ve seen venues full, a huge atmosphere and a huge number of people attending sports that they haven’t seen before,” said Andrada.
Even if, at times, it looks like they’re disguised as empty seats.
Listen to Yahoo Sports’ Greg Wyshynski podcast from Rio on GRANDSTANDING, featuring Olympians and NBC cultural correspondents Johnny Weir and Tara Lipinski!
Live from Rio: Tara & Johnny Q & A, green fart water, and more: