Vancouver sold tickets, met budgets, drew in crowds

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By Janet Guttsman

VANCOUVER (Reuters) - At the end of their six-year race for Olympic glory, the organizers of the Vancouver Games could be forgiven for looking a little smug.

The committee had an operating budget of just over C$1.7 billion ($1.6 billion) to cover both the Winter Olympics themselves and next month's Paralympics, although there is a lot of money from other sources too.

The operating budget did not include funding for the new Canada Line to the airport, or the widened Sea to Sky Highway to the mountain resort of Whistler, which will be two big legacies of the Games, or a C$900 million bill for security.

Governments paid C$585 million to build venues that included the fastest sliding track in the world in Whistler and a Vancouver speedskating arena that wows environmentalists with its eco-friendly design, and they may be on the hook for costs from the athletes villages in Vancouver and Whistler.


On the plus side, organizers say they are set to exceed the C$260 million they expected from ticket sales, even taking account of more than C$1 million in refunds paid to people who has their tickets a waterlogged venue canceled.

At least 250,000 visitors were expected to have made it to Vancouver, although final figures are not yet available.

"Every ticket that's been available has been sold. We have exceeded our expectations and exceeded our revenue forecasts," said Dave Cobb, VANOC's executive vice president.

"We were never sure we would be able to fill single seats that are always left over, so we allowed for the fact that one or two percent of the seats would not be sold. We are selling those single tickets, so we're really selling 100 percent."

Merchandise sales also beat the target, as patriotic pride painted Vancouver red and white. Organizers expect over C$90 million from merchandise sales, more than twice the target.

Vancouver organizers had promised before the Games they would avoid a problem of past Olympics, where tickets given to sponsors and other Olympic groups went unused -- keeping the public out of events despite rows of empty seats.

There were hiccups too, of course, as would-be sponsors like telecommunications firm Nortel Networks filed for bankruptcy protection, and unusually warm weather forced VANOC to use trucks and helicopters to ship snow to a snow-starved Cypress, site of freestyle and snowboard events.

But organizers said that would not bust the budget, even if the choppers flew for eight hours a day right through to the closing ceremonies.

(Editing by Miles Evans)