Agencies cashing in as rows of seats lie empty
When Sebastian Coe confidently predicted earlier this year that there would be "no empty seats" at the London 2012 Olympics, veterans of other summer Games predicted with equal confidence that his promise would come back to haunt him.
Rows of empty seats, usually in premium front-row positions, have become a familiar Olympic fixture for more than a decade. And it is the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) refusal to address the root causes that doomed Mr Coe's plan to fill every seat.
Although some of the unused seats are those reserved for the "Olympic family" of athletes and officials, who simply do not turn up to events they are not interested in, the greater problem comes from the agencies which handle the sale of tickets abroad.
Sources have revealed that ticket agencies are holding on to up to 50,000 of the best tickets for the most popular events so they can cash in by offering them as part of last-minute hospitality packages for thousands of pounds above their face value.
Up to 70,000 cheaper tickets which the Games' organiser LOCOG is hoping to buy back from the ticket agencies may simply be thrown away by them because the process of returning them is too costly and time-consuming for it to be worth their while.
Of the 8.8 million tickets for Games sessions, around 1.2 million go to the national Olympic committees of foreign countries.
Most of them will sell on the tickets to the public via a ticket agency, and in recent years a small number of multinational ticket agencies, such as the American giants CoSport and Jetset, have developed a stranglehold on the trade in Olympic tickets worldwide. This gives them the financial clout to retain thousands of premium tickets on which they can make huge profits by selling them to wealthy clients who will pay almost any price for last-minute access to see their favourite team or athlete in a final.
Because tickets cannot be sold at more than face value under IOC rules, they are sold as part of a hospitality package, with hotel accommodation, which enables the ticket agencies to charge whatever they want for the "packages".
With some packages costing more than 10 times the face value of the ticket, the agencies do not have to sell all of the tickets they hold to make a healthy profit, hence the empty seats.
The IOC has been aware of the problem for more than a decade, but successive presidents have failed to address the issue, meaning that it is inherited by the organisers of each summer Games in turn.
At the other end of the scale, some of the cheapest tickets which have not been sold in foreign countries could be thrown away.
The process of returning them to LOCOG takes up to five minutes per ticket, because each ticket's details must be manually put into a computer, which is too time-consuming to be worth it.
A well-placed source said: "The agencies never return tickets because if they get a last-minute call from one of their high-end clients they have the inventory to sell to them.
"If there are any spare tickets the agents don't want they are just putting them in a box under the table, as it really isn't worth their while to try and upload them on to the Locog ticket system so they can be resold."
The problem of empty seats has been exacerbated by the "Olympic family" of athletes and officials, who are allocated a block of seats at each event. While their section for athletics sessions is likely to be full, Olympic family seats at other events, such as the dressage and boxing, have been empty. (© Daily Telegraph, London)