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  • Tuesday Talk -- LOCOG CEO on Selling Tickets, Filling Seats and the 42-Day Marathon Ahead


    Paul Deighton is chief executive of the organizing committee for London 2012. (Getty Images)

    The Tuesday Talk Is Presented by
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    (ATR) LOCOG CEO Paul Deighton tells Around the Rings the ticketing process just underway for London 2012 is not a sprint but a marathon.

    Though ticket hopefuls throughout the U.K. can apply now for between four and 30 seats per session, organizers insist there’s really no rush.

    The next six weeks are not first-come, first-served. In other words, when a session’s demand exceeds its supply, tickets will be allocated via a ballot system.

    Whether you indicate interest now, April 26 or any day in between, the probability your efforts will bear fruit is identical.

    ATR caught up with Deighton ahead of today’s ticketing launch, a checkpoint in itself but also a celebration of a much larger milestone.

    It’s now 500 days until the London Olympics open, but the next 42 could go a long way towards determining their success.

    Ticket sales to the British public will account for a quarter of LOCOG’s total revenue as well as roughly 80% of the remaining revenue organizers have yet to reap.

    Deighton dishes on what’s at stake over the next six weeks in this edition of Tuesday Talk.

    Around the Rings: We’re coming out of a downturn in the economy, and there are some doubts that maybe it’s not a great market to sell Olympic tickets. Will you be able to get a good reading on the enthusiasm of the British public for the Olympics with these sales?

    Paul Deighton: I think you’re absolutely right. These are still difficult times for most people at the moment. That’s why we’ve focused so hard on making our tickets affordable and including special offers to help people in families get there at a reasonable all-in cost.

    It’s really quite a deal if you think about it. For a family of four with a 10-year-old and a 12-year-old, you can get to go to the Games at a very reasonable price with all your travel rolled in, so the pricing has certainly been structured to make this appealing even for people who are finding the current economic crisis troubling.

    Again, you’re right. We’ll see from the ticket demand. We think that people believe this is a special one-off opportunity, and they really want to be there, so we’re expecting pretty substantial demand.

    ATR: We’ve reported on the expensive opening ceremonies tickets. They’re the costliest that we’ve seen recently for a Summer Olympics, maybe a record. Against that, how do people know that they can afford to buy tickets to the London Olympics?
    The best seats in the house will cost £2,012 ($3,255) for the opening ceremony. The cheapest are £20.12 ($32.55). (ODA)

    PD: If you go through the prices for each event, overall we’ve got about a third of the tickets at £20 pounds or under, and only 10 percent are £100 or above. So the lion’s share of the tickets are in a highly highly affordable bucket very comparable to other major events, and in most cases cheaper.

    Alongside that, you have great special offers. I think we’re the first ones to include special prices for young people and for pensioners.

    In about 200 of our 600-odd sessions you can pay your age, which is very handy, if you’re 16 or under. If you’re a pensioner – 65 or above – you get to feel like you’re 16 again and only have to pay £16. That’s a very very attractive offer.

    ATR: 75 percent of tickets are reserved for the British public. Is the remaining 25 percent enough to satisfy the demand that you’ll probably get from Europe?

    PD: We have the high-class problem of seeing very very high demand from everywhere, and the evidence of that takes different forms.

    The empirical evidence is our sign-up campaign. For the past six months, we’ve asked people to sign up if they’re interested in buying tickets, and they get to pick the sports they’re interested in.

    We already have 2.5 million people lined up to say they want to buy tickets. Those are predominantly domestic purchasers.

    You’re right that for Europeans, a trip to London can be a day trip. It’s a very accessible place in a very short period of time. London is an extraordinarily popular destination for all sorts of reasons, and having the Olympics and Paralympics here is just a wonderful reason to come to London in the summer.
    Empty seats are the scourge of Olympic organizers. (Getty Images)

    We are expecting very very strong demand. Part of the challenge I think for every Olympic organizing committee is to ensure that that demand gets driven across the full range of sports and sessions and not solely focused on the most popular sports and sessions.

    Certainly, part of the way we present the Games is that it’s the greatest show on earth and a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see it here in London, so make sure you’re there.

    I think we understand the dynamics of the demand and where it’s likely to be focused, but I think we pitched it so that people understand how to maximize their chances of getting a ticket because people so badly want to be there.

    ATR: I’ve seen reports that ticket allocations to NOCs across Europe are down compared to what they were for Beijing. Is that accurate?

    PD: No, I think there were one or two whose initial application didn’t quite follow the rules of how we were allocating because we’ve allocated according to sports the countries are strong in, where they’ve had past tickets. As you know, it’s an iterative process, so once we straightened that out, I think they got back to much better allocations.

    ATR: Talk about the work of two of your sponsors in the ticketing process – Lloyds and Visa. When you make a ticketing application, do you have to include payment information?
    As LOCOG's marketing partner, Lloyds will distribute paper applications for Olympic tickets in each of the bank's branches. (Getty Images)

    PD: You know as well as I do this is part of the long-standing arrangement that Visa has with the IOC, and that’s part of the deal. Visa has been quite flexible, for example, in allowing us domestically to take postal orders and checks and cash with our paper applications, and you can pick up a book to order tickets at any Lloyds branch on any High Street.

    I think, particularly in the U.K., it shouldn’t be a huge issue because just about everybody has in their wallet some form of Visa payment device, so in practical terms it gives people the flexibility they need.

    ATR: Even if you have strong ticket sales, that’s not a guarantee that people will show up for the sessions. There might still be potentially blocks of empty seats, which have been something organizers and the IOC have been trying harder and harder to avoid. What will London do to make sure that people are in the seats and that there are folks at every session?

    PD: Obviously, the first way to get seats filled is to make sure we sell the tickets, and there will undoubtedly be some sports which have some gaps in them that we’ll need to market more heavily and creatively as we get closer to the Games, so that selling effort is number one.

    Number two: we’ve done quite a lot on the session lengths and sport presentations, so when people are there, they’re happy to stay there for the whole session. If you compare us to Beijing, even though we’ve got two less sports, I think we’ve got just over 630 sessions compared to 569 in Beijing, and that’s because we’ve shortened sessions.

    For example, we have shorter and more beach volleyball sessions because sitting there for five or six hours isn’t something people will do, so we tried to tie the sport presentation and the session length into something that will be gripping and have people there the whole time.
    Tennis fans famously queue outside the All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club to buy Wimbledon tickets recycled from previous spectators. (Getty Images)

    We’re obviously working hard on transport and information, so people get there on time. As you know, all our tickets include free travel in London on that day, and we do a lot of work on people’s journey planners so they can get to the Games on-time.

    Then there’s the issue of people leaving early. One of the things we’ll do particularly in the Olympic Park is to adopt a system that when you leave early, you’re asked if you’re coming back and if you’re not, the guy at the gate will take a bar code reading of your ticket, which sends a signal back to a box office to resell that ticket, and we’ll have a ticket queue already there to buy those tickets. That’s the system that’s already utilized at Wimbledon, for example.

    Also, people who want to resell their tickets – let’s say you’ve got the flu or your grandmother’s ill and you can’t come – we will offer to buy back tickets and to resell tickets for people, so they’ll be within our ticket system the ability to recycle tickets that people can’t use, so again we think that will be helpful in getting people in their seats.

    You put all these things together, and you begin to hopefully have some success in terms of having those seats as full as they reasonably can be.

    ATR: How will you treat the secondary market in tickets: unofficial sales – people who have tickets and are selling them but doing so outside your channels?

    PD: Firstly, it’s crystal-clear to everyone, and we’ve been very public about this, that it is illegal.

    We have a police unit working with us – it’s called Operation Podium, and it’s their job to crackdown on these activities. Obviously, a lot of the activity is done online, so we monitor very closely web sites and domain names that have anything to do with tickets or 2012 with a view to closing those down as soon as possible.

    There is a very active effort to intervene and make life as uncomfortable as we can for touts who are trying to resell tickets so we can make life as comfortable as possible for the genuine fans of the public to be able to get tickets the way they want to.

    Conducted by Ed Hula.

    Homepage photo by Neil O'Shea.

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