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Ron Judd's Olympics Insider

Ron Judd, an Olympics junkie and Seattle Times columnist who has covered Olympic sports since 1997, will use this space to serve up news and opinion on the Summer and Winter Games -- also inviting you to chime in on Planet Earth's biggest get-together.

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January 12, 2009 9:23 AM

Some background on Vancouver ticketing

Posted by Ron Judd

A little background on the Vancouver Games' U.S. ticketing process.

Many of you, ticked at the process for getting Vancouver 2010 tickets, are asking questions and pointing fingers. Who's to blame? Why is the entire U.S. ticketing process handed over to a New Jersey ticket agency that makes Ticketmaster look like a role model for customer service? Where's the U.S. Olympic Committee on this?

Let's start with the last question. Answer: Right in the middle of it, but at arm's length. Here's how the process works:

CoSport is the sibling of a parent company, Jet Set Sports, which specializes in luxury -- read: top dollar -- travel to the Olympics, mostly to corporate accounts. They also sell tickets individually to the general public through the CoSport arm, which some of you have been dealing with for the past few months. This is not a new arrangement. Jet Set has been around since 1984. CoSport has been the U.S. ticketing agency for all Olympics in recent memory.

The relationships are tangled, complicated, interesting -- and probably extremely profitable in some instances:

-- CoSport has a contract with the U.S. Olympic Committee to be its "exclusive ticketing agency" for every Olympic Games. The terms of that contract, like most USOC contracts, are not disclosed by either party. We do know that the contract establishes certain paramaters, such as an upper limit on the commission CoSport can charge (likely the 20-percent it now charges, although actual prices seem to be at least 30-percent higher, not considering exchange rates).

It's unclear exactly how much influence the USOC has over the ticket-allotment request CoSport makes to the host committee, in this case the Vancouver Organizing Committee, or VANOC. But there's definitely interplay: The official request is formally submitted to VANOC by the USOC, which saves a small block of tickets for itself for athletes' families. A USOC source indicated the actual number of tickets for fans is deterimined by research from CoSport, since they're the ticket experts. CoSport's actual ticket request to VANOC for 2010 has not been disclosed by either party.

-- CoSport doesn't seem to communicate with the public and certainly not the press, because, well, it doesn't have to. A monopoly is a good thing to have. If they did speak, they likely would justify their ticket markups, commissions and other fees that seem like gouges thusly: We have to buy all the tickets up front, they say. We're carrying that risk, and deserve to be compensated. That's true. They have to divine how many tickets the public will want, and if they don't sell, they're left holding the bag. There is some indication that has happened in at least one recent Olympics. But any fool could see ticket demand for the 2010 Games was going to be intense in America, a foreign country so close and so interlinked with the host. The "risk" for pre-purchasing tickets for Vancouver 2010 was likely infinitesimal. Our guess is that CoSport requested as many tickets as it could get.

-- CoSport has dozens of additional, similar contracts for exclusive ticketing with many more nations, from Australia to Europe, whose fans attend the Olympics.

-- In addition, parent company Jet Set Sports has its own contractual relationship with the host committee, in this case VANOC. Like many companies, it is an official Olympic sponsor (meaning it pays the Olympic committee a nice sum) and also a provider of services -- in this case luxury travel, mostly for fatcat corporate types. These contracts also are undisclosed, but we're talking about substantial millions of dollars here.

In exchange for that, Jet Set gets its own allotment of tickets, separate from the CoSport/USOC allotment, to resell with travel packages. This allotment also is undisclosed (notice the trend here?) And in the case of the Vancouver 2010 Games, it is of particular interest because of what happened right before U.S. ticket buyers received their notifications last week. Namely, Jet Set transferred 15,000 tickets from its corporate allotment to its CoSport share for the general U.S. public. That increased the total ticket pool from a puny 33,000 tickets to a slightly less puny 48,000 -- still only about 3 percent of the total number of tickets distributed by VANOC.

It begs some questions: If Jet Set had a spare 15,000 tickets lying around to transfer over to CoSport, how many tickets did it receive for travel packages in the first place? Or more specifically: Could its ticket allotment have been anywhere near -- or, God forbid, greater than -- the entire ticket allotment set aside for the general U.S. public?

It's important, because one of the great issues faced by the Olympic movement is elitism. While the IOC as an organization has made great strides in opening up the Games themselves to more diverse groups of athletes, it remains an organization run by, and largely catering to, the upper crust -- especially when it comes to access to the Games themselves. IOC officials, of course, bristle at that notion. But they bristle while their shoes are being shined in all the nicest hotels, with tickets to all the best events, with little to no hassle in obtaining them. If Games officials are doling out as many tickets to luxury travel packages as to general ticket buyers, they're only worsening the notion that "regular people" are an afterthought when it comes to Olympic attendance. (It's already a very sensitive topic in Vancouver, which, like many other host cities, is starting to feel touches of buyer's remorse at staging an expensive, largely publicly financed event that in many ways feels off-limits to ordinary citizens.)

It seems likely that Jet Set's transfer of tickets from its travel packages to individual sales was strictly a business decision. With the tanking economy, and many of Jet Set's primary corporate clients cuting budgets, holding on to large blocks of tickets attached to spendy travel packages likely involved at least some degree of risk. The individual ticket market, by comparison, was not only strong, but was a known quantity to CoSport, which already had the entire U.S. ticket request database in its hands. It's a guaranteed sale at perhaps lesser profit compared to a speculative sale in ticket packages.

Some of you have asked whether the USOC is sensitive to its image -- and the Olympic image -- being tarnished by the ticket process. I'd say yes -- to a degree. But not enough to do something about it, clearly. In case you're wondering, there's zero chance the USOC will step in itself to handle ticketing itself, and reduce or eliminate the markup. "We're not in the ticketing business," they repeatedly say. If anything, the trend is toward contracting more of those services out, not taking them on and raising their own employement rolls.

But it's clearly the kind of thing that makes the U.S. public think twice before mailing off a check to the USOC when they get those fundraiser letters in the mail.

Bottom line: This is one of the few instances where the U.S. Olympic movement deals directly with the public in a customer-service situation. And from what we keep hearing, the experience for much of America has not been a positive one. Disgust is not the primary emotion you generally want to leave with your fan base. We know the USOC is an intensely public-image-conscious organization. And one would expect them to pay a little more attention to ticketing for a Games so close to home.

Comments | Category: CoSport , Jet Set Sports , United States Olympic Committee , Vancouver 2010 Games , Vancouver 2010 tickets |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

April 20, 2008 8:00 AM

High times at the USOC

Posted by Ron Judd

Official Olympics Insider Proclamation:

April 20, 2008

Seattle, Wash.

WHEREAS many many of the nation's top athletes, particularly those in track-and-field, are under investigation for using performance-enhancing substances at past Olympic Games, and

WHEREAS the International Olympic Committee and other governing bodies of international sport, in spite of accelerated awareness and best intentions, still admittedly have no means to test for some of the more-prevalent performance-enhancers believed to be in rampant use today, and

WHEREAS any athlete willing to shoot said substances into the buttock region demonstrably could gain the extra speed/height/distance/time advantage to win an Olympic medal and

WHEREAS said Olympic medal could translate into millions of dollars (Canadian; tens of thousands, U.S.) in endorsement deals, and

WHEREAS various U.S. officials, including Peter Ueberroth, the Chairman of the United States Olympic Committee, have boldly stood before hundreds of journalists and repeatedly proclaimed the U.S. squad being sent to Beijing to be "a clean team,"

NOW BE IT THEREFORE RESOLVED THAT, given all of the above, the following serious question really must be asked:

Are these people high?

Comments | Category: Beijing 2008 Games , Doping , IOC , Peter Ueberroth , Summer Games , United States Olympic Committee , Winter Games |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

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Blogroll and links

www.olympic.org: The official International Olympic Committtee site, with news releases, a searchable Olympic medals database and other archival information.
www.nbcolympics.com: Olympic news site from one of the Games' primary sponsors.
NBC Olympics columnist Alan Abrahamson's column/blog
Chicago Tribune Olympic sports writer Philip Hersh's blog
www.usolympicteam.com: U.S. Olympic Committee's athlete web site.
www.aroundtherings.com: Ed and Sheila Hula's Olympic News Service (subscription).
www.wcsn.com: News service with audio, video and text coverage of Olympic sports, during and between Olympics. Free, but charges for live video feed subscriptions.
www.beijing2008.com: Beijing Organizing Committee Web site.
www.vancouver2010.com: Vancouver Organizing Committee's 2010 Winter Games site.
www.london2012.com: London 2012 Summer Games site.
www.sochi2014.com: Sochi, Russia's 2014 Winter Games site.
www.chicago2016.org: Candidate city Chicago's summer 2016 bid committee site.
Olympic swimmer Tara Kirk's highly entertaining WCSN blog
Bellevue Olympian Scott Macartney's WCSN alpine ski-racing blog
Other WCSN Olympic athlete blogs.