By Jim McCarthy Aug 13, 2012 0 comments

London Olympics 2012: Severe Case of Pretendinitis

I love the Summer Olympics, and this year was no exception.  What a great couple weeks of competition, with both a really successful US team, and a lot of amazing performances from interesting and remarkable athletes from around the world.   And London put on a great show, free of the tyrannical nonsense and May Day Fair fakery the Beijing Olympics were stuffed with.


The London game mishandled ticket sales; it’s as simple as that.  Yes, the event is primarily a broadcast-based event, but it’s also a live event.  From what I can tell, the organizers showed a tremendous amount of disregard and disrespect for good practices when it comes to selling live events.  This article identifies just a couple ways in which this was done so badly, and here’s a key tidbit:

“The ticketing process has been particularly frustrating for those sports fans who complained about spending hours online trying to get their hands on tickets only to be told they were sold out.

Their anger was only compounded when in the early days of London 2012 television footage showed swathes of empty seats in some stadiums, including high profile sports and some finals.”

But don’t worry.  There’s a solution to all those empty seats:
“After stinging criticism in the British media and from the British Olympic Association, London’s organizers swung into action by using off-duty soldiers and volunteers to sit in empty seats.”

Wha?  “Off-duty soldiers”?  Did they call up the Reserves to fill the stands at Show Jumping?  Was the Territorial Army called in to occupy Rhythmic Gymnastics? As a NATO ally, was the U.S. obliged to send end the Alabama National Guard to placate the badminton semi-finals?

This is an advanced case of Pretendinitis, the syndrome in which a seller of live event tickets is so arrogant, incompetent, and delusional as to think that making it impossible for people to buy tickets to their event will make lots and lots of people buy tickets to their event.

Here’s how it went: the IOC expected sales to be super hot for the games, so they created a million barriers to actually buying the tickets for fans: you had to be from certain countries at certain times; you had to guarantee ticket purchases, even if you didn’t know whether you were going to get them; you had to commit to a purchase even if you didn’t know WHICH event you were going to get once you purchased.

Pretend, pretend, pretend.  Pretend that no matter what shenanigans got thrown in the path of the consumer, there would be unlimited demand for the games, at any price.

Nonsense.  Do you know what sells tickets to live events?  Actual interest in the events, and with millions of people coming to London and lots of genuine interest in the events, this shouldn’t be a problem.

But when ego and appearances are more important than results, you can get some empty seats.  Quite a number of them.

I’m not saying this is an easy thing to ticket properly; I am saying that if you start from incorrect principles, you will never get to the right solution.

Here’s some unsolicited advice for Rio 2016:

1.  Focus on making tickets available for sale.  Instead of creating multiple levels of waiting lists, start dates, and hoops to jump through, the IOC should have focused on early, easy accessibility.  You know the little “1-click purchase” button on Amazon?  It’s worth billions of dollars.  Do you know why?  Because when things are easy to buy, people buy a lot, lot more.  And by the way, don’t take the events off sale if they’re not sold out.  That’s nuts.

2.  Recognize that different events will command vastly different levels of demand and price accordingly. Sorry, Dressage, you ain’t no Men’s Basketball.  You too, Javelin Prelims.  That’s ok though because there are hundreds of thousands of people in London looking to enjoy the games.  At SOME price, all those events become desirable, if of course, they can be bought easily.

3.  Stop focusing so much on stopping scalpers. The problem for the games this year is that with the exception of a relatively small handful of events, there simply weren’t enough buyers, not that scalpers were fleecing everybody who wanted to go.  Scalping is an issue, but it’s not THE issue.  THE issue is that you made it so hard to be a scalper that you made it pretty hard to be a person with a ticket, period.

4.  Package creatively. Of course, some events at the Olympics are going to be a tough sell.  But if you package creatively, you can give people a “path” through the games where they feel they get to see a wide variety of things, including some of the stuff they really want to see.  They will also be interested in seeing a smorgasbord of other stuff (like Dressage and Javelin prelims) that they don’t normally have an interest in but may never get to see again.  They’re there to see the games, so give them “games.” Think of it almost as a tour or a sampler.  Use the better events in these packages to sell the rest.  If scalpers want to buy, let them buy these.  Believe me, they’ll find a way to sell the Dressage tickets if they can.

5.  Stop making it about you. People like the Olympics; they want to believe in the Olympic ideal, and they’re not just there (and not just watching) to see Lebron and Usain Bolt.  Make being at the Olympics like being at a buffet of all kinds of readily available exotic foods, where you just want to sample everything because it’s so easy and appealing.  They don’t care how quickly you “sold out” (especially when you didn’t) or how bad-ass your preparations are.  You care about that, but they don’t.  I guess the lesson is when your interests and the interests of the people you’re expecting to show up diverge, there can be trouble.

The kind of trouble where you have to bring in the Army…to watch Team Handball.

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