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London 2012 Olympics: What Was With All Those Empty Seats?

Despite tickets being sold out and nearly impossible to get (and really expensive for those who did manage to score some), I noticed so many empty seats during the first few days of the Olympics.

“What’s up with that?” I wondered while watching swimming, volleyball and gymnastics.  Not only were whole blocks of seats empty, but they were the good, lower-level ones.  It bothered me instantly, before I even knew or understood why it was that way.

Given that they were the hottest seats with the best views, I figured that they belonged to the corporate sponsors who never seem to give a shit about the event.  I’ve been to countless Heat games where I’ve watched the corporate big-shots show up halfway through the second quarter and sit in their courtside seats for about 40 minutes before leaving in the third quarter.  I love these people when it allows me to upgrade my seat and move closer after they leave, but mostly they just annoy me.

I felt bad for the athletes who didn’t have the full house that they deserve to cheer them on and create hype during the biggest performances of their lives.  I felt awful for their friends, spouses and family members who should’ve been filling these seats, but couldn’t get tickets.  Lastly, I felt bad for anyone else in London who was unable to get tickets through the complicated lottery process but would’ve loved to be there.  Give those tickets away to local kids, college students, charities, soldiers, anyone.  It would’ve made their year.  The organizers in London may not have anticipated this problem while planning, but since they had all those empty seats, why not upgrade those in the nosebleed sections to make the venue at least appear to be full?

It turns out I wasn’t the only one who noticed and was annoyed.  Commentators noted the unfilled seats—12,000 in all– and many people, including several Olympic athletes, turned to social media websites like Twitter to express their anger.

Indian tennis player, Mahesh Bhupathi, tweeted: “Been trying for 6 hours now to buy my wife a ticket to watch me play tomorrow. Still no luck, and the grounds here feel empty. Absurd!!!”

Irish swimmer Barry Murphy tweeted: “Hundreds of empty seats again in the Aquatic Centre. My parents would’ve given an arm and leg to get in.”

Since this outrage an investigation has been launched by Locog, the organizer of the London Games.  It comes after they have faced a lot of criticism for the number of seats given to—you guessed it—corporate sponsors as well as Olympic officials and “VIP guests.”

A spokesperson for Locog said: “We are aware that some venues had empty seats. We believe the empty seats are in accredited seating areas, and we are in the process of finding out who should have been in the seats and why they weren’t there.”

There are many theories and ideas as to why so many seats were left unfilled during the Olympic events, including the following:

  • Long queues and transport problems left many ticket holders unable to get to their seats in times to watch the main events.
  • Some seats were reserved for dignitaries that did not turn up.
  • Some premium tickets were held back by foreign ticket agencies hoping to make a killing by selling them at grossly inflated prices at the last minute.  Yuck.

The London Olympic Organizers did end up giving British troops and schoolchildren free tickets, but a lot of damage has already been done.  While I find it easy to blame most of the issue on Locog giving too many tickets to corporate sponsors, some major sponsors including Coca Cola, Visa and McDonalds have issued statements denying that they have failed to use their allocated tickets.  The fiasco has turned out to be a huge embarrassment for Locog and the city of London, and I cannot wait to hear what the investigation turns up.

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