Stories of empty seats are building up for London 2012, presenting LOCOG with its first major PR crisis of the Games as initial euphoria subsides. This should not be a surprise. Empty seats were also an issue at Beijing, with corporate sponsors not taking up tickets being identified as a factor again. The same issue was experienced at Athens in 2004. In January, I wrote:
Ticketing is a common problem for organizers seeking to maximise revenue from corporates. The run-up to the Sydney 2000 Olympics encountered similar controversy over the number of tickets available to the public. Most telling about both these cases is that the harm done to organizers’ reputation, and public attitudes towards the Games, was entirely self-inflicted. It also suggests that ticketing is often not considered a critical risk, but can nevertheless be a major problem for event organizers.
LOCOG will no doubt try to ride out the PR storm, using the standard defence that corporate sponsors are essential for financing of the Games, but public attitudes towards the Games can quickly shift as it starts to understand the process through which tickets are allocated. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Hopefully organizers of future Olympics will resolve this problem, but it seems unlikely given that it is an obvious and recurring issue.