Duncan Mackay

With London 2012 now well on the way to hitting domestic sponsorship targets, notwithstanding the global recession, attention is set to move increasingly to the other sources of revenue that will help foot the bill for the Games: merchandising and ticketing.

Organising committee chief executive Paul Deighton told me more than three years ago that he was “quite excited about doing better than anyone has done before” in general merchandising and licensing sales. 

That will mean raising more than $100 million (£60 million).

Meanwhile, a discussion earlier this summer with Deighton’s colleague Sebastian Coe, the LOCOG chairman - that took place a few days before the announcement that Ticketmaster had been appointed official ticketing services provider - alerted me to how much thought is already going into London 2012’s ticketing strategy.

This is even though tickets for the Games will not actually go on sale until 2011.

The report of the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) Evaluation Commission, released in 2005 in the closing stages of the race to secure the right to host the 2012 Games, noted that London’s ticketing revenue estimates amounted to $473 million (£286 million) for the Olympic Games and a further $23 million (£14 million) for the Paralympics.

Coe, though, says that the ticket strategy “accounts for a good 24-25 percent really” of LOCOG’s revenue. 

Since this is expected to reach £2 billion, it looks like the actual amount raised from the 7.9 million Olympic and 1.2 million Paralympic tickets will be substantially higher than that 2005 estimate, at least at current exchange rates.

The first point of interest is Coe’s emphasis that a “strong central thrust of our ticket strategy is to make sure that we have full venues - that’s what we are working towards”.

This will be music to the IOC’s ears, but might prove easier said than done - even in a country like Great Britain which has a longstanding tradition of attendance at live sporting events.

Empty seats have been an issue at each of the last two summer Games, in Athens and Beijing.

Yet in the Chinese capital, according to the IOC’s Beijing 2008 marketing report, “Incredibly, over 99 per cent of the tickets were sold for Olympic events held within Beijing, far exceeding the previous record of 92.4 percent that had been set at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games for events held within Sydney”.

The IOC Evaluation Commission report said that London 2012’s ticketing revenue estimates were based on sales rates of 82 per cent for the Olympic Games and 63 per cent for the Paralympics.

What Coe’s remarks also suggest, though, is that a great deal of ingenuity will go towards trying to fulfil that full-venue objective.

Most obviously, he talks about making sure that the “spectator experience is a really good one” and making the Olympic Park “a very buzzy place to be”.

Second, while allowing that, for example, “we have never sold a commercial handball ticket in this country”, he adds: “I see that as a massive opportunity”.

This is both because, “if we are smart”, London 2012 ought to be able to use the Olympics to “introduce kids to sports that they certainly have never played before, probably haven’t ever watched before” and because a continent of avid handball aficionados is on the UK capital’s doorstep.

Says Coe: “There are 80 million Europeans who are within Eurostar reach of London for a day’s session at the Games…[This] does need to be factored into some of our ticket strategies as well because those 80 million Europeans remember are in some cases very much more familiar with some of the sports that we are going to be presenting than our domestic [audience].”

£480 million divided by 9.1 million implies an average ticket price of more than £50, so I am guessing that plum seats for the final of the men’s 100m will not come cheap.

For the less obvious attractions, it is clear that great pains are going to be taken to ensure tickets are pitched at the right price – and offered to the right people.

“We are taking a very holistic view about ticketing,” Coe says.

“The question you always get is, ‘What are the prices going to be?’ We are looking not just event by event; we are looking session by session.

“The work we are doing is also about the psychology of ticket sales: to pluck any example, if I’m into judo, but I can’t get judo tickets, where do I next go? Do I go taekwondo? Do I go wrestling? Do I go track and field?

“So, properly understanding the psychology of tickets…We really need to know before we go into this what those preferences are.”

By way of comparison, the average ticket price for a sporting event in Beijing was $23 (£14), but the spread was enormous, with prices ranging all the way from just 75 US cents (45p) to $150 (£91).

Coe also seems determined to do all that he can to make a day at the Olympics a feasible proposition for all inhabitants of the UK wherever they happen to live.

“The price of the ticket is only one part of the accessibility story,” he says.

“If you are a husband and wife with two or three children, you are based in Sheffield or Leeds and you want to come to the Games…the price of the ticket is only one of the issues that are going to determine your commitment.

“It’s also about sitting down with train operators and making sure that there are Supersavers in place and that…where we can make it just more likely we are going to get people from outside London, we will.”

David Owen is a specialist sports journalist who worked for 20 years for the Financial Times in the United States, Canada, France and the UK. He ended his FT career as sports editor after the 2006 World Cup and is now freelancing, including covering last year's Beijing Olympics. An archive of Owen’s material may be found by Twitter users at www.twitter.com/dodo938