2012 Olympics tickets: $7,000 to watch a 10-second race?
LONDON (AP) - There are still tickets on sale for the men's 100-meter finals at the London Olympics - contrary to what most people think. The opening and closing ceremonies too. Even beach volleyball (but not too many.)
As with all things in life, though, there is a catch. It will cost you.
They are part of hospitality packages sold by a company contracted by London Olympic authorities to sell the most desirable events. Combined with vintage champagne, fine wines, canapes, and multi-course dinners, the deluxe deals offer companies a chance to entertain their most favored clients.
This is for people who don't mind spending 4,500 pounds ($7,000) per person to attend a 10-second event if it could mean closing a deal worth a few million. Not what one might call the nosebleed seats.
"You may not remember who you were with when Chelsea played West Brom," said Alan Gilpin, chief operating officer of Prestige Ticketing Ltd., referring to two English soccer teams. "But you will remember who you were with when Usain Bolt runs."
The Prestige concept is new in an Olympic context. Among American sporting teams, NFL franchises have for years made their best seats available to top-paying season ticket holders and combined them with food, wine and extras. But up until now, the usual way to get such treatment at the Olympics was being an executive at McDonald's, Coca-Cola or other Olympic sponsors.
Big corporations are still willing to pay millions to attach their name to the games, piggybacking on the branding of an event devoted to healthy competition and warm, fuzzy stories of overcoming adversity. Prestige, however, gives high-rollers and smaller business executives a fighting chance to be oh-so-close as well.
The payoffs can be huge, says Marc Ganis, the president of Chicago-based SportsCorp., a sports consultancy.
"What the Olympics provide more than anything else is a platform for multinational companies to bring together their top customers and their top corporate decision makers," Ganis said, noting that chief executive officers are likely to attend to lead their own teams. "That can tend to lead to tighter relationships and more business."
Still, it's a tricky issue for London's organizers, who have struggled this year over the subject of tickets and access to them. They set up a complicated lottery system in which people blindly registered for tickets and handed over credit card details to pay for them before they even knew what - if any - tickets were getting.
"It's like going to a supermarket and putting some money down at the checkout in hopes of getting the shopping you want," said Matthew Bath, the technology editor of the consumer group Which?
Two-thirds of ticket seekers failed to earn any in a first round that ended in April - with 22 million requests in the first round for the 6.6 million tickets available. A second round was blighted by computer problems. Plans for further ticket sales at the end of December and again next year have failed to stem public grumbling.
Those dashed expectations are worrisome in a time of economic austerity, as critics have charged that millions were spent to build stadiums and otherwise finance the games - only for the public to be shortchanged when it comes to actually seeing them, complaints exacerbated by reports of huge ticket allocations for sponsors.
Prestige says its allocation comprises about 1 percent of the overall London Olympic tickets - and stresses that 70 percent of its packages sell for less than 1,000 pounds ($1,500) a person. Their clients include broadcasters, national Olympic committees and media companies. Some 20 percent of their sales have gone to individuals, with packages offered to a minimum of four.
There will be stiff competition out there to lay on the best party for the London Games. Even Queen Elizabeth II has taken note. In an unprecedented move, the monarch has given permission for big fancy rooms at St. James's Palace in central London to be rented out to holders of royal warrants - companies with long-standing ties to the royal family.
Those rooms are reported to include the Throne Room, the Tapestry Room and the Queen Anne Room.
Nonetheless, Andrew Burton, the chief executive of Prestige, said he's not worried about losing business to people who might want to rent out the palace.
"That's great," Burton said. "But it doesn't give you access to tickets."
Still London organizers might be a tad uneasy, since they have just over half of their tickets sold with under nine months to go, Ganis said.
The Olympics are different than most other sporting events in that people who want to attend really plan ahead.
"There are a lot of logistics involved in traveling to an Olympics, unless they're planning on selling a lot of these packages locally," he said. "(Ticketholders) make those kind of arrangements months in advance and not on the spur of the moment."