LONDON – Olympic organizers braced for a last-minute surge in ticket applications Tuesday, the final day for fans to purchase the 6.6 million tickets offered for the 2012 London Games.
With the six-week online sales period closing at 11:59 p.m. in Britain, organizers reported a big spike in demand for tickets to the first Olympics in London in 64 years.
Paul Deighton, chief executive of organizing committee LOCOG, said the level of applications had "hit the roof" in recent days.
"In the last week we have been getting three or four times the applications above and beyond what was coming in for the previous five weeks," he said. "The sky's the limit based on the pattern that I'm seeing at the moment."
Organizers said about 100,000 people had started the ticket process but had not yet completed their purchases going into the final day.
"We urge sports fans to complete their applications by tonight or they could miss out," Deighton said.
Applications rose dramatically over the four-day weekend as the deadline approached.
"Six weeks ago I said this was a marathon and not a sprint, but now we are heading for the line big time," LOCOG chairman Sebastian Coe said, citing a late "massive surge" in demand.
On sale are tickets for 650 sessions across 26 sports, with prices ranging from $33 for some events to $3,320 for a top seat at the opening ceremony. The best tickets for the men's 100-meter final go for $1,200.
Organizers opted against a first-come, first-served system, meaning customers applying on the final day stand as good a chance in landing tickets as those who applied on the first day.
Organizers have targeted selling about 80 percent of the tickets by Tuesday night, leaving about 1.3 million available for sale later.
Applications will be processed in May and June, with applicants notified by June 24 if they have been successful. Tickets for oversubscribed events will be decided by an automated ballot or lottery system.
LOCOG has declined to give any figures or statistics for applications so far, although Deighton said applications were "pretty well spread" across the sports.
Coe said it was no surprise that tickets for the opening ceremony and 100-meter final were in top demand.
Rowing and track cycling — two sports in which Britain excels — are also expected to have strong sales.
Coe urged fans to sign up for "less obvious" sports, including handball and basketball. Despite basketball's high-profile status in many countries and the appearance of big-name NBA stars in the Olympics, the sport still struggles for recognition in Britain.
LOCOG has budgeted about $825 million from ticket sales, about a quarter of its overall operating budget.
The online process was available for residents of the U.K. and 26 European countries, with Visa the only credit card accepted. Elsewhere, including in the United States, ticket sales are handled through national Olympic committees. About 1 million tickets will go to non-European overseas buyers.
There have been complaints in Britain about high ticket prices, but organizers say the top-level prices allow for more affordable tickets at the other end.
Some buyers are concerned they have to commit their money before knowing how many tickets they will be allocated. Money will be taken out of customers' accounts between May 10 and June 10, more than a month before they find out the status of their orders.
Ticket buyers are worried they might end up with more tickets than they actually want or can afford. Organizers say they plan to set up an official ticket resale site, where customers can sell off their tickets at face value.
"It's like the purchase of anything," Coe said. "Make sure that you have the budget available up until June 24. Don't go for so many tickets that you may be left with something you can't afford."
The number of tickets going to sponsors and Olympic officials has also been an issue. Coe said the public will get about 75 percent of the overall ticket allotment after corporate clients and Olympic VIPs get their share, with the figure dropping to 50 percent for top events.
"Let's be clear about what we mean by corporate, because actually, probably only about 8-9 percent of that is corporate," Coe said. "The rest of that are Olympic family, international federations, and of course our sponsors do pay, in large part, for the staging of the games."