31 Jul 2012

Olympics Q&A: why can’t I get a ticket?

Most familes are dysfunctional, and the “Olympic family”, it appears, is no exception. Channel 4 News settles into the empty seats row.

Empty seats at the London 2012 Olympics (Reuters)

What’s going on?

It’s emerged that the main reason why viewers and athletes are staring into rows and rows of empty seats lies in the Olympic Games’ accreditation system. That’s what Lord Seb Coe said over the weekend, and Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt repeated on Monday.

Blocks of seats are allocated to the “Olympic family” – national organising committees of each of the competing countries, international sports federations, broadcast and print media, and sponsors.

Unless the event is what’s known as a “high demand event”, such as the 100m men’s final, accredited members don’t need tickets – their laminated pass is enough to get them a spot in that zone. It’s free seating, once you’re in.

It’s not difficult to imagine that, given many of these people won’t have paid, say, £100 for their ticket, they’re pretty take-it-or-leave-it about watching that event. So far, most have chosen to leave it – hence the banks of empty seats.

But it’s also the case that some accredited people won’t be able to make it for justifiable reasons: it may be that they’re athletes on a training schedule, or an official with a meeting to attend, or a member of the media who has to cover a different event.

Read more: empty seats remain continue to blight Olympic events

So it’s all the accredited people’s fault?

Not only, we suspect. Of the 8.8m tickets on sale, just 75 per cent were for the general public.

The remaining 25 per cent of those, or 2.2m, were for non-general public. Of them, 176,000 were for sponsors, 264,000 for the national Olympic committees, and 110,000 for governing bodies or people choosing “bespoke” packages, such as travel, hotel and ticket deals. All the tickets had to be bought, but we don’t know that each ticket-holder bought their ticket individually.

Take this tweet from one Olympics spectator at the Andy Murray game: “Around 20 people with corporate tickets from Samsung arrived 5 mins before end of Murray game. More have just arrived now. Play started at 12.”

We could be wrong, but again, it’s likely that they won’t have paid dozens of pounds, shillings or pence for those tickets, which gives them less of an incentive to turn up.

Hang on a minute, who did you say gets the non-general public tickets? Aren’t they accredited anyway?

It certainly looks like there’s ample scope for crossover here, which may explain why the seating situation is quite as bad as it is. Accredited people includes national organising committees of each of the competing countries, international sports federations, broadcast and print media, and sponsors.

And of the 2.2m tickets not for the general public, eight per cent were for sponsors and stakeholders, such as broadcast rights holders.

We know of people who’ve been given a ticket for an event because they’re a member of the above, and people who’re accredited anyway.

So if they turn up, that’s one of two seats they’ve taken. If they don’t turn up, then that’s potentially two seats empty because of one no-show.

It’s worth remembering, however, that there are less accredited seats than accredited people. In theory, it’d be possible that all the people who’ve got a pass still can’t get a seat, though clearly, that doesn’t seem to be a problem right now. And as tickets aren’t tags, we can’t track their end destination. So we don’t know how many accredited people have also got tickets to an event.

Likewise, it’s not always that easy to predict how many accredited people will show up and take a seat.

So what are they doing to get bums on seats?

A few stern phone calls, Channel 4 News has been told by one Olympics source. We keep on being reassured that “this won’t continue to happen”, and part of that, we suspect, is because some high up people are telling accredited folk they need to make more of an effort.

But for non Olympics people, troops, as we know, have been drafted in. And teachers, and schoolkids. Locog, the organising committee, have also put an extra 6,000 tickets on sale over the last two days. They’ve started monitoring the number of tickets used and will put returned tickets on sale the night before events.

Even before the Olympics started, they cut the accredited seat allocation by some 15 per cent – precisely because Beijing faced the same problems four years ago.

Now, the British Olympics Association have called on the International Olympic Committee to completely revamp its ticketing policy for future Games and swap it for something “state-of-the-art” instead.

Great, so you’ve explained why I can’t get a ticket. But I still want one. How do I get it?

Go to tickets.london2012.com and keep on checking to see whether any are available. They will continue to be released on an almost daily basis, until no more are available. It’s a question of simply checking as often as possible to see what’s around – they will be sold on a first-come-first-served basis.

All 3,000 tickets released on Sunday were snapped up rather quickly, so speed is of the essence, and perhaps money. There may be a chance of getting hold of a package, such as ones offered by Thomas Cook, in which you might be able to get tickets and a night in a hotel, for example.

There are some foreign authorised ticket resellers online, but it’s best to check that they’re authorised by Locog.

What won’t work, however, is turning up to the games and asking to buy tickets at the venue. There are no tickets available at the gate.