RIO DE JANEIRO – Viewers around the world have tuned into the Rio Olympics and asked the same question: Where the heck are all the fans at these events?
“As most of you have noticed, there are some empty spaces in stadiums,” said Mario Andrada, Rio 2016 spokesman.
Empty seats can be found everywhere from beach volleyball to soccer stadiums to Michael Phelps’s races at the aquatic center. Which is weird, considering how many tickets the Rio organizers claim they’ve sold – over 5 million for the games, and nearly 82 percent of all tickets sold – and distributed to sponsors and National Organizing Committees.
So where are the fans?
Rio organizers have given five main reasons for the empty seats at events.
On top of the usual problem sports face, in having scalpers and brokers gobble up tickets and then having them go unused when the prices are jacked up, the Rio Games have a different issues: The mass arrest of scalpers, which take tickets out of circulation.
Officials report that 12,000 tickets had to be “canceled and recycled” after scalpers were arrested in the opening days of the Olympics. Some of those tickets were never resold after they were reissued.
Specifically for beach volleyball, but also affecting other venues, was the fact that some of the food options – such as salads – were being quickly sold out. The venues then allowing fans to leave the site to get food and then reenter it. So part of the reason there aren’t fans in seats is because they’re having to leave to locate food, according to the officials.
Sponsors aren’t using them
Fans who received free tickets from the Olympics’ many sponsors – typically seats one might see on television – aren’t using them.
“We’re seeing some sponsors not living up their responsibility for tickets,” said Andrada. “There was a sense that some corporate tickets haven’t been used.”
This is partially due to the long security lines at venues that Andrada said frustrated some of these VIPs in the first week of the games. Obviously, since there’s no financial stake in the tickets they’re holding, some are content just not to attend the event.
Specific to beach volleyball – which has been surprisingly sparsely attended, given that it’s the second most popular sport in the country – Rio officials said they believe some fans are simply showing up for Brazil matches and then vacating the stadium in Copacabana beach rather than staying to watch other matches.
“Local fans more focused on Brazilians and then they leave,” said Andrada.
Forced empty seats
Finally, Rio officials offered a reminder that the venues are legally obligated not to sell six percent of their seats.
It’s a law in Brazil to accommodate those who assist fans with a disability with the chance to purchase a ticket to the event onsite. Officials also said that they artificially stay under capacity due to problems in previous nationwide sporting events when crowds have been overcapacity. In either case, it’s the reason Rio officials said they can’t always declare that a venue is sold out.
While empty seats don’t play well on television, Rio officials claim it hasn’t brought down the spirits inside the venues.
“Even though we had a few empty seats in some stadiums we never had a low atmosphere,” said Andrada.
Listen to Yahoo Sports’ Greg Wyshynski podcast from Rio on GRANDSTANDING, featuring U.S. swimming legend Summer Sanders on Michael Phelps, IOC doping and Donald Trump: