Social Science blog

16 February 2011

Selling the Olympics

LOCOG has now published the London 2012 competition schedule online, which appears along with the list of ticket prices for the events. Both look to have been a logistical nightmare, the latter perhaps even more so, given that it has to reflect a number of values and aspirations, notably inclusiveness and profitability. The prices have rather a poetic feel in fact – with seats for the opening ceremony ranging from £20.12 to £2012.00, while at some events, young people under 16 “pay their age for a ticket”: a neat symmetry.

 Ticket sales were ever a cause of apprehension for the Olympics organisers, as a glance at those wonderful documents, the official Olympic reports, demonstrate. The 1908 London Olympics was held in conjunction with, and had its venue funded by the Franco-British Exhibition, and the location of the sports stadium on the exhibition site caused some head scratching by officials on both sides. Writes Theodore Cook, in the official report of the Games, “it was obvious that people who only paid a shilling to enter the Exhibition could not be given free admittance to the stadium and that spectators who paid to see the sports could not thereby claim uncontrolled admittance to the exhibition”. Once this was sorted out “via a system of checks and counter checks which occasionally proved annoying to those unfamiliar with the complicated problem to be solved” the sale could go ahead, but as Cook complains, the Games was “never adequately advertised by the Exhibition authorities and the prices of the seats were at first placed so high that whole blocks remained empty” (a box on the opening day was eight guineas).

 At the 1948 Olympics Games the main source of revenue was the sale of tickets, but take up from abroad was very slow at first, much to the alarm of the organising committee. As late as July 1948 only half of what was needed to cover costs had been taken, and the media began to talk about a flop. Sales even for the opening ceremony were not particularly brisk and many complementary tickets had to be handed out to students, nurses and other deserving cases.

 Commentators in both 1908 and 1948 explained these difficulties by suggesting that the sport-loving British already had a panoply of sporting events to look forward to in the summer, from Test cricket and Henley to horse racing, and therefore had no need or inclination for other distractions, but it is obvious that these Games had particular difficulties to face: the modern Olympics were in their infancy in 1908, and 1948 saw the world in the complex grip of a post war shortage of resources.

 How London 2012 will fare – the world itself being in the grip of another financial crisis - is debatable. My guess is that the organisers are confident of selling all the tickets and that if they don’t, there will be a plan B in reserve to fill those empty seats. Only time will tell.

 British Olympic Association The Fourth Olympiad: being the Official Report of the Olympic Games of 1908 celebrated in London ... Drawn up by Theodore Andrea Cook, etc. [With plates.] London, 1919

London reference collections shelfmark: 7904.d.7.

The Official Report of the Organising Committee for the XIV Olympiad. [With plates.] Organising Committee for the XIV Olympiad: London, [1951.]

London reference collections shelfmark:7920.d.28.

Schedule of events and ticket prices. London 2012


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