Olympic-Sized Emptiness

When organizers announced that all 6.8 million tickets for the Summer Olympic Games in Beijing sold out before the events even got under way – the first time in its 112-year history – it was seen as a major accomplishment.

But reports began to surface of empty seats at many events during the Games, even the popular ones, causing some confusion.

“This is our fourth Olympics, but getting tickets to this one has been a nightmare,” an eventgoer told the Los Angeles Times. “Then you get inside and you wonder who got all the tickets, because there is nobody there.”

Wang Wei, VP of the organizing committee for the Summer Olympic Games, has given a variety of reasons for the seating surplus during the committee’s daily press conferences, beginning with that one timeless issue for outdoor events – weather.

“We’re very concerned about the stadiums not being full,” Wei said. “I believe that it’s due to the weather. Also, for some events such as basketball and beach volleyball, the ticket is for the entire morning, afternoon or evening. They may want to only watch one game. I believe there are a lot of factors at work here.”

Another possibility chalks up the emptiness to the large numbers of reserved seats and the massive population of the country, according to Wei.

“We have reserved seats for the Olympic family and different client groups,” he said. “For those clients, they may also send tickets to their friends. They will come for one time and may not at the other time. But that is not mainly the reason. For the Chinese audience, they all want to buy tickets. Some people buy tickets for themselves and some people buy tickets for their friends. Again, people who received tickets may come at one time and may not come the other time.”

And that idea seems to jibe with reports from ticketing agencies.

Jet Set Sports President Mark Lewis, whose company is an affiliate of the CoSport ticketing agency in China, told the Times the empty seats don’t appear to be tickets sold in the U.S., Australia or Europe.

“I know where our seats are. … The people who bought our tickets are attending,” he said.

It’s possible that some of the empty seats belong to people who purchased tickets and attempted to scalp them.

Organizing committee officials said during a press conference that legal action was being taken in the U.S. against one company fraudulently selling tickets online. Wei added that police were clamping down on scalpers and as many as 340 tickets had been confiscated.

In the end, it appears Olympic organizers found the one solution to the empty seat problem – bringing in crowds to fill the stands and cheer.

“If they find that there are not enough people or if they find that there are too many empty seats, they will organize some cheerleaders who are volunteers,” Wei said.