Toronto, Canada – By Allan Dowd
VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - Organizers of next year's Winter Olympics in Canada will support a free market system of reselling tickets, a move aimed at avoiding a problem in past Games when "sold out" events still had empty seats.
The Vancouver Organizing Committee (VANOC) had once warned it would punish people who tried to "scalp" or resell tickets at more than their face value. But it has since decided to use its own ticket system to resell tickets in a way that will also protect consumers.
"Given that market is out there, we wanted to provide an alternative. We felt that if we didn't allow ticket sellers to post tickets at whatever price they wanted to, they simply wouldn't use it," Cobb said.
About 1.6 million tickets are being distributed for the 2010 Games in Vancouver. About 70 percent are being sold in Canada by VANOC with the rest sold internationally by national Olympic committees or bought by sponsors.
Only Canadians can resell tickets via VANOC's website (www.Vancouver2010.com), but anyone will be able to buy them. VANOC will charge a fee to both buyers and sellers, but does not expect to make a profit from the system.
VANOC says using its site will ensure buyers that the ticket they're getting are not counterfeit, a problem that often plagues major sports events.
"You'll have to ask yourself if you see a ticket being sold on Craig's List why is it being sold there and not on this legitimate site," said Caley Denton, VANOC's vice-president of ticketing.
Ticket scalping is illegal in parts of Canada, but not in the province of British Columbia.
PRESSURING OLYMPIC COMMITTEES
Cobb said VANOC officials were worried about a repeat of past Olympics where some lower-profile events had empty seats, because tickets sold through national Olympic committees and given to sponsors went unused.
VANOC was required to sell a percentage of the tickets to Olympic committees in different countries and sponsors, but it also pressured members of "the Olympic family" not to order more than they actually needed.
"We wanted them to know tickets are a privilege not a right," Cobb said.
That pressure has resulted in more tickets being available to the general public.
VANOC's goal is to have up to 75 percent of all tickets available to the general public, and at least 30 percent for major events such as hockey, which would both be higher levels than at past Winter Olympics.
There have been complaints in the United States that it did not get enough tickets, especially in the Seattle area which is near Vancouver. VANOC says the U.S. got more tickets than Canada received in the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games.
(Reporting Allan Dowd; editing by Rob Wilson)