London’s Olympic ticketing headache

Chris Chase
Fourth-Place Medal

If having too much demand for Olympics tickets is the biggest problem encountered by the London 2012 organizing committee, next year's Summer Games will run smoothly as the Thames at dawn.

For now, complaints about the ticketing procedures have become the first controversy of the Olympics with some disgruntled citizens complaining that the application process was unfair and others saying they feel detached from the Games because they won't be able to attend.

Nearly 7 million tickets to 645 sessions were available for sale at the start of the spring. Throughout March and April, over 1.8 million people sent in more than 20 million applications for tickets, each for a specific date and session. A random lottery was then conducted and 700,000 applicants automatically had their tickets purchased.

The gap between total applications and successful bids stemmed from a high demand for marquee events. There were approximately 40,000 tickets on sale to the public for both the Opening Ceremony and men's 100-meter final. Combined, those two sessions received 3 million requests. Overall, organizers say that 50 percent of sessions were oversubscribed -- a remarkable figure given that sessions like team dressage and handball preliminary matches have traditionally seen low Olympic turnout.

Winners were unaware they had received tickets until their credit cards were automatically billed following the lottery. Even then they didn't know which tickets they had won. They were eventually told via email but still don't know the location of their seats and won't until the end of this year.

The biggest complaints from ticket holders centered around these credit card guarantees. Every application required a credit card that would be charged in the event that it was selected. This put applicants in a difficult spot. Even knowing that there were safeguards in place to ensure that individuals didn't end up with thousands of dollars worth of seats, how much would they be willing to risk? If you want $500 worth of tickets, do you apply only for that $500 and run the risk of getting nothing? Or do you press your luck and apply for $5,000 in tickets, based on the assumption that more applications gives you a better chance of getting tickets to something?

Most people went for the latter method. London's Telegraph newspaper theorized Brits were successful in 10 percent of their ticket requests. A small group had received up to 40 percent, though.

This led to an interesting dichotomy: some people complaining that they had received too many tickets and others insisting they hadn't received any. Even the mayor of London joined in on the catcalls. "I think it is a bit peculiar that that is the way around," Boris Johnson told reporters this spring. "It is an administrative oddity but we all understood that when we signed up online that this was the deal and we would be prepared to pay these amounts. I do not think it is particularly heinous."{YSP:more}

Others are upset that they don't have anything at all. More than 1.2 million applicants received no tickets and were initially left in the dark about the opportunity to participate in a second-chance lottery. That process began June 24 and drew 150,000 applicants. From those, 90 percent received tickets, mostly to soccer or basketball preliminary games.

Though it's of little consolation to those who missed out on seeing Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt, there are a number of ways around not having a ticket. The marathons, triathlons and cycling's road races are among the events that spectators can watch for free. Ticketed areas sit at the beginning and end of the races but in between there are ample opportunities to watch the competitions, including one plumb spot near Buckingham Palace that affords a great view of the men's and women's triathlons.

If tickets don't help Londoners gain access to the Games, volunteering could. Officials are looking for up to 70,000 people for various roles, including greeters, cleaners and hospitality. Though there's bound to be some more disappointment — 100,000 have signed up for the interviews — LOCOG head Sebastian Coe said that between volunteers to perform at the Opening Ceremony, the torch relay and a special city ambassador program, there will still be a number of opportunities to assist at the Games.

Ironically, the nation's biggest sport is having the most trouble filling seats. Over 75 percent of the 2 million available soccer tickets remain unsold. The uncertainty over the makeup of the British team (players from all United Kingdom nations will join together) and the Olympics' under-23 rule for the men's tournament are partially to blame. It doesn't help that the early round soccer games are played all over the country, not centralized in London. Since those will be easier tickets to score, the early demand wasn't there. Over time, organizers expect to fill soccer venues, particularly if David Beckham is awarded one of the three overage spots on the team.

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