Olympic Ticketing a success

I fear that many won’t agree with me when I herald the Olympic ticketing operation a success. As I have stated before, ticketing is never popular – it is a necessary evil, a process that people have to undergo to gain access to events, but would never choose to, one that can be frustrating and expensive.  Even when someone is successful in getting the ticket that they want for the price that they are happy with, they often won’t think positively about the whole process of booking them in the first place. Of course the unpopularity of ticketing is heightened the more high profile or desirable the event.

The problem that ticketing has is that, in an environment of high demand and low availability , there are always going to be people who are disappointed who then think that the process is unfair. Add into the mix that one of ticketing’s primary purposes is (usually) raising revenue and the result is an emotional cocktail of complaints and recrimination.

So it is in this environment that I stick my head above the parapet and say that I think that LOCOG did a good job of ticketing the London Olympic and Paralympic Games. I recognise that many won’t agree – and I understand why. But this is why I think it has been a success.

The challenge was enormous, to sell over 11.5 million Olympic and Paralympic tickets for events, including some that many in this country hadn’t heard of, and at the same time meeting ambitious £600 million revenue targets.

The results 8.7 million Olympic tickets, and 2.7 million Paralympic tickets sold. It is well documented that the Paralympic’s were the best ever attended, exceeding revenue targets http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-19500185  but more tickets than ever before were sold for the Olympic Games. Who can forget the sell out crowds for the morning sessions in the Olympic Stadium? Unprecedented,  even for a popular event like athletics.

We should consider the numbers:

2000 Sydney – 6.7 million tickets

2004 Athens – 3.5 million tickets

2008 Beijing -7.5 million tickets

2012 London 8.7 million tickets

This is why I say the Olympic ticketing operation was a success. Their primary goal was to shift tickets and meet revenue targets .They certainly achieved that and, whilst revenues for the Olympic Games haven’t been released, I would be amazed if they hadn’t met their targets after achieving these numbers.

The next goal was to sell these tickets securely and to prevent the kinds of fraud and ticket touting that have been experienced in other Olympic cities. With the help from the Met Police’s Operation Podium and some beefed up legislation, this was largely achieved.  Yes there were some high profile exposes and there will be probably more unveiled in years to come, but on the face of it the Games have passed without any ticketing scandals. Operation Podium arrested 92 people for touting during the Olympics and in the years building up to the Games have helped clean up the whole of the whole of the ticketing industry.

Open seats. Well this is the area where it could be argued that the Olympic Ticketing operation wasn’t successful. With so many people who wanted to, unable to get tickets many think it was unforgivable that there were sometimes swathes of open seats. There are a number of issues here. First of all, as people who work in ticketing will identify, you can sell the ticket but you cant force people to come. We have all looked at seating plans satisfied with a sold out house, only to walk into the auditorium to see rows of empty seats. There are always reasons, the coach party that broke down, the people who got the wrong date etc etc.

For the Olympic organisers so much of the inventory was out of their control, when Olympic officials, National associations or sponsors say that they are going to use their tickets, when they pay for them , those in charge of ticketing have to take them at their word. If those people don’t turn up, what can be done? This is a problem not caused by LOCOG but by the rules and regulations, agreements and policies as laid out by the IOC. These issues have occurred at games after games and will happen again at Rio unless the IOC changes its policies. In the 21st Century, is it really necessary for tickets to be sub allocated to individual National Associations? In this internet age surely there can be one global portal so that ticket sales can be managed centrally, ensuring that tickets are available where and when there is demand?

The other cause of open seats was what we, in the entertainment ticketing industry, know as House Seats. House Seats are seats that are always held back until the last moment for a variety of reasons ranging from dealing with problems/mistakes to accommodating  that last minute VIP. In my experience it always takes a few performances to get house seats right, how many should be held and when they should be released – but eventually the demands even out and everyone gets into a pattern. Unfortunately LOCOG didn’t have the luxury of a few performances to get it right, the spotlight fell on them immediately. From what I understand there were a couple of significant reasons why this was a problem for LOCOG. Firstly many of the seats were taken by coaches / officials who over a morning might be visiting three of four different events, requiring a seat at all of them, but only using it for part of the time. Secondly many of the areas that these seats were located were in accredited areas which, from a security point of view, made it problematic to sell to members of the public. It is to their credit that LOCOG sorted out these issues quickly and that after the Wednesday of the first week there was very little talk of open seats.

But it was disappointing. Experience from previous Olympics showed that this would happen and it is a shame that LOCOG appeared to be caught on the hop by this and that they didn’t have procedures in place from the start to deal with this. I had imagined that they would have had some sort of returns scheme whereby members of the public could purchase tickets if they hadn’t been occupied within, say, 20 minutes of the start time. But it is easy to judge from afar without knowing the full logistics of such a scheme.

So with only that one negative, I am going to award LOCOG 9 out of 10 for the Olympic Ticketing Operation. I think that Paul Williamson (Head of Ticketing)  and the team did a terrific job and have set a very high standard for Rio to follow. Hopefully, Rio will get better support from the IOC, who do need to look at and bring up to date the whole global distribution of Olympic tickets and help make the next olympics another Olympic triumph.


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