POSTED: April 6th 2016

NEIL WILSON: Selling the Olympics To Brazil

Host city Rio de Janeiro © Big Stock
Host city Rio de Janeiro © Big Stock

THE NEIL WILSON COLUMN / An exclusive, authoritative series from Sports Features Communications

(SFC) Bad news for the Olympic Games in Rio is hardly news. The Zika effect, corruption, political turmoil, delayed construction...South America's first Olympics has had it all.

Now this week comes the news of what may be the consequence of the aforementioned. Brazil is not buying into the Olympics.

Before this month ends, the Games will reach its 100-day milestone. Yet according to the organisers this week, barely half of the 7.5 million tickets have been sold and for the Paralympics only one in ten.

Four years ago 80% of the Olympic tickets were sold by February of 2012, three-quarters of those to buyers within the United Kingdom. Only the out-of-London football tickets remained at that time.

Brazil's latest sports minister claims that the Games are "still not in people's heads".  Ricardo Leyser, installed in the job only days earlier after his predecessor resigned, told the agency AFP: "There is a perception that the Brazilian population has not yet worked up for the Games."

Perversely, the revenue from sales has reached nearly 75% of the overall target, suggesting that the tickets selling best are the more expensive and probably abroad. Indeed that would seem to be confirmed by the arrest of ten locals for ticket gouging.

They had advertised for sale on social media 700 tickets at ten times their face value, a considerable profit if among them were tickets for the Opening Ceremony which can cost $1,250.

The cheapest available at face value are only $11 dollars and the average only $18, so even in a country where the average monthly salary is only $220 you would assume that it is not price that is deterring sales.

Thomas Bach, the IOC president, played down concerns in March, reminding everybody that Athens in 2004 still had almost 40% of its tickets still to sell when the Games began.

Rio is not Athens. It may have had to postpone a test event this month because a venue was not complete but there is not the panic around that afflicted Athens. Nobody has the impression that facilities will not be complete, as most of the world did in 2004.

Leyser hints at a Government buy-up, at least for the Paralympics, and unsold cheap seats being distributed free to pupils of public schools. More sales points will also be opened in Brazilian cities to make tickets more accessible.

The potential loss of revenue in a country already struggling economically is only one concern. Far more significant for the IOC is the effect on the Olympic Brand.

Rows of empty seats when the world's television cameras are focused on the Games is not the backdrop that its sponsors want.

At the 100 day mark in 2012 TOP sponsor P & G launched its "Thank You, Mom" promotion, the biggest in the global company's 147 year history.

The last thing the 2016 sponsors need to feel at the100 day point is that the hosts do not care for the Olympics. 

** NEIL WILSON reported his first Olympic Games in Munich in 1972. He has since covered another nine summer and nine winter Olympics for various newspapers, including The Independent and the Daily Mail with whom he has worked for the last 19 years as Athletics and Olympic correspondent. He was Britain's Sports Journalist of the Year in 1984 and is the author of seven books.

Keywords · Olympics · Neil Wilson

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