EmptySeatGate

Summary

Will the corporations and officials take a kicking over this?

Empty corporate seats at UK sporting events are not a new phenomenon. The first time I came across this was at Euro ’96. I remember watching Romania vs Bulgaria at Euro ’96 and (being football nuts at the time) could not understand why the people of Newcastle were not fighting to get into the stadium to see two of the greatest players of that generation (Hagi and Stoichkov) squaring off. (Unfortunately the latter did himself no favours with his racist abuse towards Marcel Desailly in the match against France). Throughout Euro ’96, the only games other than the England games I can recall being jam packed was the dull draw at Anfield between Germany and Italy that set the latter home. Hence why I really hoped we would have learnt from that experience – especially given that Coca Cola and McDonalds were two key sponsors at that tournament as they are for the current Olympics.

Let’s not kid ourselves with the New Wembley either. The most expensive seats are around the royal box and the players’ tunnel. Yet how many football matches have we seen where the last people to take their seats (and the first people to leave) are those in those very seats. Ditto with the tier of executive boxes which remain unused because the bankers that bought rights for them in the boom time have lost interest.

It’s not nice to see such swathes of empty seats from a spectator’s perspective – whether watching on TV or being in the stadium. It kills the atmosphere. Just look at the Olympics’ football – should they have used smaller more compact stadia? I’m gutted for the Great Britain Women’s Football Team in that respect.

LOCOG investigating

Which may be all well and good but given the scale of events this is something that will be difficult to turn around unless the those at the top of the sponsors and officials from other  Olympic committees (who presumably have all of the good seats) impress on those with tickets to actually turn up. For all we know it may be a case of such people having tickets for different events that clash at the same time.

Question marks over sponsorship and officials

This is one of the things that will have to be looked at in detail after the events are over, but I hope that we will see a sea-change. Chances are the data will be there to find out who turned up and who didn’t. The question is whether it will be released. Which firms or national organising committees had tickets but chose not to use them? I’d be surprised if the data was released. LOCOG is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act (because hell would have to freeze over before the IOC and its sponsors agreed to such dangerous concepts such as transparency). When you look at the list of members of the IOC, you’ve got your royals from oppressive regimes and even one of the generals from one country that has recently experienced a revolution. Why is he still on the list?

What’s social media got to do with this?

Yeah…me and social media again. Well…compared to Euro ’96, people are talking about it but in a manner in which everyone can see – i.e. it turns up in trending items on social media. This is what tipped some people off too. What also raised the stakes was that promises were made by the IOC to deal with empty seats following problems at Beijing in 2008. It seems that in this regard, the IOC and friends have utterly failed.

I mentioned in previous blogs on the Olympics that this is the first one where people have been able to answer back en masse. If social media users create a global social media firestorm – and there’s nothing like an international tournament from which to do so – they will. The question is to what extent those all important brands will be tarnished.

A huge market failure too?

The truth is that there was no market. Those multinationals (from the private sector) that secured official sponsorship rights used their muscle to rig the rules of hosting the Olympics in their favour. Those rules included the ‘legislative arrangements’ host countries had to make in order to host the games – as I set out here. As a result, those rules crushed any competitive market in selling tickets. Rather than making those tickets available on the open market (where we know there was huge demand), they were clearly allocated to a group of people from which there was little demand.

Some – in response to tweets via Puffles – are blaming the state for this. I can’t say the state isn’t blameless, but it has its hands tied because of the nature of the IOC (and FIFA to that regard) and their multinational paymasters. The challenge for politicians worldwide is whether they can come together (and whether we can pressure them to) to say that such sporting events belong to the people, not the corporations.

Some have said that multinationals bought the rights and that’s the end of it. I don’t think such rights should have been available in the first place. Multinationals are doing what multinationals always do: seek to crush the competition. With the Olympics they have used their influence to change laws in their favour. This makes a nonsense of small businesses benefiting from such events because of the blanket use of ‘sterile zones’ and brand policing. As if there aren’t more important crimes that need to be tackled without the needless creation of seemingly artificial ‘crimes’. I’d rather trading standards officers were seeking out firms selling dodgy meat rather than hauling up butchers for arranging sausages in the shape of the Olympics’ rings.

I really hope this is all sorted – sorted in a manner that makes lots more tickets available to the genuine fans. It’s genuine fans that make for such wonderful atmospheres. Otherwise you end up with huge swathes of stadia and event halls either with no one in them, or a few members of the prawn sandwich brigade in the parts that the camera cannot see – ruining what should be wonderful sporting spectacles for everyone.

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