Want to see the Olympics? Plenty of good seats still available.
With less than three weeks remaining before the start of the Sochi Olympic Games, hundreds of thousands of tickets remain unsold across many events. Concerns about both cost and security are keeping fans away, observers believe, and the empty seats could cause problems on both a financial and perceptual level for Russia.
However, Russia's Olympic organizing committee disagreed with the perception of Sochi having difficulty selling tickets to the Games. "Tickets are being snapped up fast with the most popular events being hockey, biathlon, figure skating, freestyle and snowboard," the committee said in a statement to the Associated Press. "With 70 percent of tickets already sold and another ticketing office opening shortly, we are expecting strong last-minute ticket sales and do not envisage having empty seats."
Those figures can be interpreted another way. According to the AP, a total of 1.1 million tickets were put on sale across all events. By Russia's figures, that means roughly 330,000 tickets remain unsold.
As the AP notes, Vancouver's Olympics in 2010 saw a 97 percent purchase rate of the 1.54 million tickets available. The 2012 Summer Games in London saw a similar 97 percent purchase rate, though in that case there were 8.5 million tickets for sale.
Security concerns are having a dramatic impact on ticket sales, and repeated threats have done nothing to calm fears. Russia cut tickets by 50 percent for mountain events because of security issues.
"That means there will be less people and probably less enthusiasm than we had, for instance, in Lillehammer," Gerhard Heiberg of the International Olympic Committee said. "I hope the Russians will fill not only their indoor stadiums but there will be enough people in the stadiums for the Nordic events."
A total of 213,000 spectators are expected to be at the Games, with approximately 75 percent of them being Russian. Tickets range in cost from the equivalent of $15 to the equivalent of $1,200, with more than half going for less than $150. However, as the AP notes, the average monthly salary in Russia is $890, making the tickets a luxury item.
For international visitors, the sheer cost of getting to Sochi is prohibitive. Only Germany and Turkey fly directly into Sochi, with all other nations needing to either connect or fly to Moscow. International visitors must also go through the visa process and obtain a universal "spectator's pass" which requires the visitors to provide all their passport details for screening purposes.
In short, there are a range of bureaucratic, political, and economic forces working against the Sochi Games. Still, given as much effort as Russia has put into the Games to this point, it's not unreasonable to assume that the nation will put effort into filling venues regardless of ticket sales.