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Crack the empty seats problem and we are on for best Games start ever

Posted on 29 July 2012 | 10:07am

There is something very British about the obsession (which I confess to sharing) with empty seats at big events. I am not aware of any other country where ‘you couldn’t sell all your tickets’ is a popular football chant insult.

But unless the empty seats problem is solved soon, it is an insult likely to spoil the otherwise wonderful start to London 2012.

In part, we are back to our old friend unintended consequences. Despite the scandal of MPs’ expenses, we are one of the least corrupt countries in the world, but we have to do business with other less stringent nations and the Bribery Act was in part about ensuring high standards at home in the hope of driving them up overseas.

Where the unintended consequences come in is in the fear of many that accepting freebies from corporates may infringe bribery laws in one country or another. I know of one sponsor which has been sitting of a vast pile of tickets for weeks, working through a long list of people they cannot be given to according to the strictest interpretation of laws.

To the real sports fan who spent hours being told by websites that event after event was sold out, these legalistic technicalities will be of little comfort. And they are likely to be angered somewhat by the other factor at play here – VIPs, corporate sponsors and others who don’t really care about the empty seats problem so long as they can get to all the action, sporting and other, they want to.

But it should matter to the IOC, to Locog, and to the government. And that means urgently facing up to the most common logistical event management problem of all time – bums on seats.

If we go to the theatre, we accept that if we arrive late, we can’t get in until a moment convenient to those who bothered to arrive on time. Give Olympic ticket holders half an hour from the start of the event. If the seat is unclaimed, sell at reduced price to those queueing at the ticket office, or give to off duty volunteers and security staff.

Of course some people, not least those on sponsors’ packages, have tickets for more than one event at the same time. The authorities should make it simple for those tickets to be returned and resold.

People know that with so much going on across so many venues and sporting disciplines, there will be hiccups and teething problems. But at a time when one of the big criticisms of elite sport is that it has been captured by corporate greed, the empty seats are giving symbolic substance to that charge. Dealing with it will require a lot of will, a lot of creative logistical thinking, and a little bit of chaos. But it will be worth it.

On a happier note, I spent part of yesterday putting my languages degree to good use by trawling a few overseas media websites for judgement on Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony. Everyone loved it. Especially the French. Now that, mes amis, est un triomphe.

  • Really nice piece.

    I remember now your love of French culture – and, ça c’est un triomphe bien sûr –  i remember you used to be a fan of jacques brel?

    no need really to explain why danny boyle’s opening ceremony was such a success. the ground of whether it was ideological or political is well trodden – nothing to add is there, save for the fact it was us – the UK – “The Big Society” without the crap label.

    apparently this problem with the seats is a longstanding one. i hope someone somewhere is sorting it out – but it’s definitely not going to spoil what has been a phenomenal Olympic Games for me so far.

    Hope you’re well Alastair, and that you’re enjoying the Summer. Finished ‘The Burden of Power’ which I thought was superb. A really important set of governments for us, under Tony Blair, and I hope that Labour can now go from strength-from-strength, now that it seems to me that more people in the public share our views (than we first thought)?

  • Mail

    A suggestion on twitter was that blocks of seats allocated to sponsoring corporations be painted with adverts for their commercial rivals, that might have had them making an effort to fill them.

  • Andyfurlong

    I was thinking along similar lines – but how would you handle people with valid tickets who arrive late for whatever reason?

  • Barbara Cannon

    Lots of my friends are talking about this and are frustrated because they could not get tickets themselves and they would love to be there watching right now. 

  • Looking on the website at the moment there do seem to be a few tickets available, and i’d love to go, but £185 a seat for less than 2 hours of the swimming? Is it just that they have over provisioned for the very rich?

  • If there are ‘no-shows’ give the seat or seats to the off-duty but on site military.

  • Anonymous

    Back room organisation of this Olympics, frankly, has been pants. Twenty-Twelve beeb spoof was accurate and how some gobshites got a job trying to run it is beyond me.

    Very old establishment “gentleman” amateur sport flashback I am getting, with rugger and tennis kept amatuer I still remember from my lifetime, to give the high class twits a chance, with their annual money wotsits from auties and daddy and such. And anyone remember footies wage cap? Descendents of those people that carried on then have organised our Olympics, folks, and it certainly shows. Take Boris for instance, if anyone can disagree with me that I think he is a clown, that should be in some russian circus, I don’t know who is one.

    But maybe the Coalition gobbshitted trickle down has occured? Anyone agree?

  • Anonymous

    …and furthermore Alastair, if we are so uncorrupt as a country, why do people get sent to prison within a few days, while the priviledged hang on with bail for years, and then get a suspended sentence when they eventually get tried? Ey?

    One rule for the corrupt establishment who live in the Smoke, and blow the rest of us.

  • reaguns

    So far I have only seen Burley and Alastairs nemesis Toby Young complain about the ceremony. Young wanted more celebration of Britains military and it’s role in saving the world from tyranny. Well… The empire was part of that tyranny, but also people know about Churchill and WW2 right? And was this the time for that? Should we have launched a cruise missile from the stadium?

    I think Boyle got it right, this was about celebrating the positives, our role in the industrial revolution, democracy for all, healthcare for all and the modern, vibrant and yes multicultural nation we are today.

  • reaguns

    As I expected, the BBC is ruining the games for me. I have already missed the Irish lads boxing, BBC so complacent and haphazard. Why can’t they tell us exactly what will be on and exactly when?! I’d sack the lot and cancel the licence fee. They don’t even show it all live so we can’t rely on other schedules either. The BBC are just like the bankers – complacent, protected from competition, government crony, rent seeking bastards.

  • Anonymous

    Empty seats , Lord Coe? As a suggestion, but this might be out there, yah, how about filling them with the homeless? Or even citizens local, the knees of muvver brown crowd, who seem deserving with the bullshit you come out with, you thick nonse!

  • Anonymous

    …furthermore Lord Coe, get on the local electoral register near there, to find who you, ahem!, think suitable to get tickets, and go knocking on doors to deliver, you totally unimaginative shit!

    There, I told him. These twits send me spare they do. Citizens of Pillockia they are.

  • Anonymous

    reaguns, go on beeb tellytext on freeview or whatever, choose sports, then choose Olympic Stats, then choose todays BBC coverage, and it will have a few pages what is on, and with what channel/button, red pink or blue, and all that stuff. It will either be on freeview 1, 7, 301, or(mainly in the evening, after 7pm) 302.

    Hope this helps.

  • Anonymous

    Oh yes reaguns, some when not on telly, it is online on BBC sport homesite. Just get on their sport site, and click olympics, and it should show on the right hand side what is shown live online, some which will not be on telly live.

    Watched about half an hour of ladies beach volleyball there this morning that was not on telly – that was enough for me… : )

    wharrt? what are you suggesting? wash you mouths out, ach-y-fi.

    yum yum it was reaguns….

  • Dave Simons

    What’s up with Toby Young? I know a lot of us rebel against out parents to some extent, usually in our late teens, but what did Michael Young do to deserve Toby? 

  • Nick

    Sport does not belong to sport any more !.It relies on sponsorship to an extent that it could not now survive without it .Take the Emirtaes out of Arsenal or City and see what you are left with .The only thing I would say is let those who pay hard earned money for tickets have the better seats .Not those that are left  empty by the “Prawn Sandwich ” brigade in the best positions.
    As for the opening ceremony !.Danny Boyle got it spot on !.He concentrated what put the Great into Great Britain !.The Bessemer steel making process spurned so many industries such as Railways ,shipbuilding ,bridges and steel structured buildings .
    JK Rowling .How many countries can claim to have a living literary icon ?.She represented our Literary past which includes Shakespeare and Dickens.
    We are envied by the world with our NHS !.It is the perfect model for providing free healthcare for all at the point of delivery.Without it we would have sick people going untreated and dying because of their poor financial circumstances.
    I think Danny deliberately left out anything or anyone military in order not to offend any of our international guests.
    As for the right wing commentators who slated it!.
    Crawl back under your stones before you get stood on !.Burley will never live it down and I expect him to be outed soonest.

  • Olli Issakainen

    Olympic elite.
    A sponsored security show.
    Olympics sponsored by Coca-Cola.
    Commercialisation of the Games knows no boundaries. At least we should have ethical sponsors.
    Los Angeles Games in 1984 started the trend. 1980 Moscow Olympics celebrated communism.
    The openening ceremony, while brilliant in artistic terms, displayed how Rome was destroyed.
    Bread and circuses for masses while the economy is collapsing and a big new war is brewing in the Middle East.
    Surveillance, consumerism and elites making money out of it.
    Sport is a consequence of the level of development of the productive forces of capitalism.
    Olympics will cost something between £13bn-30bn. Montreal is still paying the bills…
    London 2012 Olympics will give a boost of £5.1bn to British economy in four years.
    Foreign visitors to Britain will amount to same in 2012 as in 2011, 30.7m.
    Olympics will lift consumer spending by £750m.
    Retail will take £185m, hotel sector £123m. Entertainment plus food/drink sector £81.5m.
    Airlines and travel sector £40m. Supermarkets will take £80m.   

  • Damian Moore

    Yes Alastair, I confirm, the french loved Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony. My friends at work (local government in Toulouse) all enjoyed it !
    Damian Moore
    Toulouse, France

  • Anonymous

    noticed beeb two has been getting in on the act today, so add 2 to the list.

    Beeb coverage has been a bit disjointed, they seem to bounce coverage of an event between channels. Why they didn’t show all of the cycling on channel 7 is baffling, and why on the hour go to news for a couple of minutes??? We only have to click 80 for beeb news 24 if we want some of it? Strange that.

    Who is their director? Another character from Twenty-twelve that I missed?

  • I wonder about your comment “we are one of the least corrupt countries in the world”. I think that the House of Lords is very often simply institutionalised corruption. People can and do buy themselves a place in parliament, or they get their position through favours. To me that is corruption, however because we have given it a fancy name and dressed it up with a lot of traditional rituals we hide the reality of its corruption from ourselves.

  • Richard

    How right you are: the emphasis on the NHS must sicken the other 203 countries with inferior, poorly funded less successful so called health systems. The French for example who pay an extra 3% of GDP on their health system: what do they know? Their system is rubbish.

    We all know, for we have been told, that we have the best Health Service, Armed Forces, Police Force, Fire Service…….
    Ambulance Service….blah blah…..Civil Service….blah blah……Electoral System…….Politicians….NO sorry,  not politicians….blah blah.

    Let us all join hands and sing Land of Hope and Glory once again, and feel sorry for all the other inferior nations for whom we should show pity.

    Those cyclists who upset Cavendish on Saturday, by not letting him win, should be deported immediately as an example to all other athletes who fail to recognise our superiority as a nation and out inalienable right to win!

    Lord Smug is to give tickets to teachers and students: how about for once, just once, considering ordinary ratepayers and tax payers?

  • Anonymous

    As I said, Alastair, keep being kept sent messages to me, from my constantly new found friends on youtube, as if facebook is supposed to be some sort of magic, I find, it isn’t. Listening to this as I key, and more I key, sublimes my mind, within something in me doesn’t, day to day,

    Well, that is how I think, torys.

  • Anonymous

    Even more Gerry Anderson marvellous, when I was growing up, circa 1970, kiddies,

    Not a puppet in sight, which is nice, but plenty of strings…

  • Anonymous

    by the way, if you want to join the establishment quickly, join the cops, Met coppers especially, they are teflon when they do bad, especially manslaughter…..

    He was a confirmed nutter that was in the met, sacked because of it, joined surrey, joined met territorial, then went too far, and he was absolved of his own actions. Any sense in that?

    If they didn’t go out to recruit nutters, maybe young sensibles might fancy joining, but they no doubt do not want to join, to join a shower of shit.

    Get it, cop recruiters? spannerheads

  • Anonymous

    Just watched Austria just beat the ozzies in beach volleyball. mmm. What makes you think I feel as if I need to post an Osterreich song, ey? Always made ja good friends in Osterreich. Piss on flag, ja, wie Ollie Reed, ja? fühlen sie sich frei! : )


  • Anonymous

    oops, posted wrong, wrong aspect ratio on that, made them look like orangatans, so wide faced, this one is the one,

  • Anonymous

    Furthermore, more Osterreich, and why not?

    Es gibt eine chance, dass eines tages werde ich gehen und in Österreich leben, in Tirol, für eine weile, bis auf die landschaft schauen, nach oben und unten, in jeder hinsicht, vielleicht Finkenburg auf dem weg in die Hinterteux, oder auf dem weg zur Pass Thurn von Kitzbühel entfernt. Kann noch nicht entscheiden. Es gibt so viele möglichkeiten.

  • Djunfitforwork

     Off topic -I like the way AC allows -or does not edit -long rambling conversations to go on at the end of threads. It’s either a sign of increased humanity -or slackness permitted due to lack of Political Power. I prefer to believe the former. 🙂

  • NickSmeggHead

    I heard that ministers for Murdoch, Gove and Hunt, also objected about the opening ceremony. 

  • London 2012 fan

    I will probably anger some by saying this, but I am a little annoyed at people complaining that they can’t get tickets when there have been loads freely available for the football, even for tonight’s Ladies match.

    We got tickets for the fencing on Sunday and have three football matches ahead of us to go to.  I am not normally a sports fan and had never seen fencing before aside from a James Bond film, but had an absolutely amazing time, even though Team GB didn’t play when we were there.

    I think others would have an amazing time too if they just stopped being so silly and just bought the football tickets as both the Ladies and Mens teams have pulled off some great matches and I know people who now regret not going when they could have done.

    I don’t know yet who will play at the football matches we go to as they are a semi and two finals, but I know that the atmosphere will be fantastic and not worth missing out on.

    I know football has the World Cup, but cycling has Tour de France and Tennis has Wimbledon and that doesn’t stop the Olympic competitions being so exciting.

  • Gilliebc

    Good one Richard!   I never thought I’d ever say that.

    ‘We all know, for we have been told…………..’  That and the ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ bit, pretty much sums up everything that is wrong with this country.

    Brain washed, MSM conditioned compliant sheeple, who would vote for their own ‘elimination’ if the powers that be tell them often enough that it’s the only way to save the planet.

  • Richard

    I suspect that we would agree about many more things than you might imagine.
    When the revolution comes I will meet you on the millenium bridge: you can choose, Westminster or The City. I will be happy to lead the assault on the other cheating thieving bunch of self serving bastards who have flushed this country down the pan.

  • Anonymous

    Is that on the bbc website?

  • Anonymous

    Was twenty twelve any good? I saw a bit of one episode and it looked good, but I didn’t keep going as I like to see these things from the start.

  • Anonymous

    I’m still not having much luck with it, there’s never any boxing on… except I know there is actual boxing going on everywhere.

  • Anonymous

    Hard to believe Hunt would object? I mean he is scum, but I suspect he is if not savvy enough, then chastened enough not to open his mouth about it.

    Hard to believe Gove is so small minded, but if you have any links please put them up.

  • Anonymous

    I’m not sure, I watched his documentary about the rivalry between Boris and Dave (by the way its enough to make you want to pass a law banning all Etonians and Bullingdon boys from office, if you didn’t feel that already) and I think the likes of James Delingpole and him are very envious of more important people, for example Boris and Dave, but probably also of people like Danny Boyle.

  • Gilliebc

    I have long suspected that might well be the case too.  Come the revolution I will probably be found making the tea. Though having said that, I can still be quite ferocious when provoked.  I’ll bring some rope and piano wire.  They still have plenty of lamp posts in the capital, I assume 😉

  • Richard

    “Eugène Delacroix, Liberty Leading the People.”

    Tea? TEA? No, sister, we want you on the barricades.

    (Dress optional!)

  • Anonymous

    That beach volleyball match? Yes.

    Talking of boxing reaguns, there has been some fun and games going on with the officiating in it, very dubious goings on there. The main ones in the last day or two is what happened with that Japan and Iran boxers. Gladly the Japan boxer won his appeal – no idea what they will do to the Turkjekinstan(sp.) ref. The other boxer in that match was from Kurdjekinstan(sp.)……

  • Anonymous

    It went on a bit – it was a repeating joke, and when you see the joke in the first episode, it starts to get wearing. I watched the first couple of episodes, and then the last couple of episode in the latest series, and that was about it. The starting pistol one in the last but episode was quite funny.