Empty seats create hollow atmospheres

Posted by - Whitestone International

A great challenge for all sports event hosts is filling seats. Naturally, the commercial need to do so is fundamental to business, but it is also vital to the atmosphere of an event. Empty venues and stadia create hollow atmospheres, which do nothing to help on-going sales – and reputations – let alone sustainability of sports. But empty seats at the the Olympics it’s an even bigger issue.”

Thousands were disappointed not to get tickets for London 2012 and many were willing to pay so much to go; but as is not uncommon at marquee events, ticket allocation raises its ugly head – the issue often being about how many tickets officials and commercial partners are allocated – and it’s no different for London 2012.

One conundrum is this: officials are often busy during the event and therefore can find it hard to find the time to attend.

The only way to solve this is for the IOC to insist that unused tickets are returned (even at late notice) and then offered up in any number of ways – and of course it needs to be easy to do so. There is no real reason why, with today’s technology and digital ticketing systems, this can’t be done. But, and there is a but, it needs a culture change within the echelons of sports officialdom to act on it – this will take far longer.

Another side to this is the attendance of commercial partner executives and how they schedule their time around the events. London 2012 has proven to be one of the most democratic Olympic Games and many sponsors and commercial partners have been highly active in giving tickets to staff and fans. However, as can be seen at many events, the Prawn-Sandwich-Brigade are often there to be seen, or to do business, rather than support and so hang around in hospitality and corridors chatting business.

Again, there is a solution to this and again it is down the IOC, but this time also includes the organisers; both must insist that a certain percentage of the seats allocated to commercial partners are filled and if not then action will be taken – a form of use-it-or-lose-it approach might start the ball rolling. Some may cry foul because commercial partners have paid for them. But with a privileged position (even if having ‘bought’ the rights) comes a responsibility to fulfil the commercial exchange they are expecting, particularly from the general public, to as they say “support” the event.

If the IOC, organisers, officials and commercial partners do not support an event through attendance, they are not supporting it but ‘buying’ it and if fans get even the slightest notion that this is the case, why then should they be forced to ‘support’ partners, officials, organisers and the IOC, not to mention increased cynicism etc. and that would not be a good legacy to leave.

The IOC are the guardians of the Olympic brand and if they do not act on this issue, it is not they who will ultimately suffer, but athletes and the public as a whole.

It should be noted that LOCOG has already started the reallocation of some 1000 tickets at the time of writing, but it is not clear where they got these tickets from.