By Avril Ormsby
LONDON, June 8 (Reuters) – London Olympic organizers were warned against embarking on a quick fire-sale of tickets ahead of next month’s Games after the latest batch unusually failed to fly off the shelves, amid fears the British public had become weary of a controversial process.
The London Olympic organizing committee (LOCOG), responsible for staging the Games, has become used to putting up the “sold out” sign within minutes of each tranche of tickets going on sale.
So far, 7 million of the total 8.8 million Olympic tickets have been shifted, and about half of the 2.45 million Paralympic tickets, in a process that began last year.
But the combination of a complex and opaque online ticketing system which has appeared unable to cope with the huge demand and which seemed skewed towards those prepared to bid for thousands of pounds worth of tickets, has resulted in an increasingly wary public.
About a quarter of the of 928,000 tickets made available last month have failed to sell, including for popular sports such as beach volleyball and boxing.
“Like an abused partner, I came crawling back for more only to be punched straight in the face again,” a Twitter account said on Friday following attempts at logging on after the latest batch of 43,000 tickets went on sale.
LOCOG now faces the prospect of some stadiums not being full, something it was determined to avoid after the flak Beijing received in 2008.
“Should they be sold off? I don’t think there’s a reason for any fire-sale to happen at the minute,” said Peter Vlachos, lecturer in marketing, events and tourism at the University of Greenwich’s Business School.
“There should be a strategy behind releasing them.”
LOCOG’s initial marketing was a big success with 1.8 million people in Britain and the European Union putting in 22 million applications in the early rounds despite the severest economic downturn in Britain in more than 60 years.
But those left without tickets, including athletes competing in the Games, began complaining on Twitter and in the letters pages of newspapers.
“There is a perception that it has not been handled well, and it goes beyond this country as well,” Chris Gratton, professor of sports economics at Sheffield Hallam University, told Reuters.
“I was in Holland in February and was asked the question ‘has the complete fiasco about the sale of tickets reduced the enthusiasm for the Olympics in London?'”
LOCOG still has about 550,000 tickets to sell with just weeks to go to the start of the Games on July 27. A large chunk of them are so-called contingency tickets which had been held back while logistics such as TV camera positions were resolved.
The committee has a further 1.25 million soccer tickets to shift – about half the original number.
“We always knew tickets would be on sale right up until Games time,” LOCOG said in a statement.
Sports fans will be able to buy tickets for all events, including the opening and closing ceremonies.
“It may well be that they’ve missed the moment in the sense that ticket fatigue has set in,” said Stefan Szymanski of the University of Michigan.
“They have not managed to sustain a level of anticipation that you might have hoped for.”
But most experts believe LOCOG has done a good job, having already sold more than 90 percent of its tickets (excluding soccer). It is on target to raise the 500 million pounds ($770.88 million)needed towards its 2 billion pounds overall budget.
“They have a few hundred thousand tickets which millions of people would like to buy, then they have several millions of tickets that nobody wants to buy. And they have a commitment to make every event a sell-out,” Szymanski explained.
The lottery-style process adopted in the early rounds allowed it to get the best price for the tickets, he said.
“The problem is that the British public didn’t seem to understand this,” he added.
Alternatives, such as an auction, would have raised more revenue, but would have been resented even more by a British public that had already forked out 9.3 billion pounds towards getting the Games ready.
A first-come-first-serve policy would not have filled the stadiums and would have seen tickets sold to people who valued them at less than their market value, Szymanski said.
He was even optimistic LOCOG would be able to sell the soccer tickets.
“We are a soccer-mad nation, we’re actually crazy about it”, Szymanski said.
“I would bet those stadiums will more or less sell-out when the time comes. ($1 = 0.6486 British pounds)