Why all those empty seats at Rio Games? Plenty of reasons
RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) The taekwondo competition at the Rio Games on Thursday morning was sold out. Not a single seat was left for grabs at the 10,000-capacity arena, where fans spent between $21 and $43 to gain access.
But the arena never totally filled.
The crowds, or lack thereof, will unquestionably be part of the legacy of these first Olympics in South America, where some events were raucous and others seemed downright sleepy. Despite organizers insisting that most tickets were sold, it wasn't uncommon to see Usain Bolt running in an arena that had perhaps more empty blue chairs than fans - even after he took to Twitter with a video urging people to buy tickets.
''Make sure you buy tickets and come out and watch,'' Bolt said. ''It's going to be great.''
Bolt has more than 4 million Twitter followers. Most of them, apparently, weren't listening.
When U.S. 1,500-meter runner Jenny Simpson won bronze earlier this week, the track stadium was maybe 25 percent filled. She noticed, but insisted it didn't take away from her moment.
''The physical crowd that is there never compares to the people that you took along the journey with you and they're watching through their television screens and certainly now the internet,'' Simpson said. ''So the physical presence doesn't excite or deter.''
Rio Games officials insist that more than 80 percent of all available tickets were sold, and that their goals on that front will be met. But that stat hasn't passed the eye test throughout the games, and an Associated Press review of the remaining 100 event sessions starting Thursday afternoon showed roughly half - including the closing ceremony, the women's soccer gold-medal match and all remaining sessions in track and field - had tickets remaining.
''I got tickets for wrestling because they were the lowest price,'' said Luiz Hernandez, a Colombian who was with friends inside Olympic Park this week. ''We got them to come in here and hang out. We wound up giving them away because we just wanted to be in here.''
Hernandez said he paid 160 Brazilian real for four wrestling tickets, or about $49. His girlfriend, he said, spent at least 10 times that much in the Olympic Megastore - which, without those tickets, their group would not have been able to access.
In other words, they spent a little money so they could spend a lot of money. And they waited an hour in line just to get in the crammed store.
''She's happy,'' Hernandez said.
There's been no shortage of theories - or excuses, depending on perspective - about the empty seats in Rio. Some events start too early, others start too late. Some tickets were too expensive. Too many sports seemed foreign to Brazilians. Blocks of seats ordinarily set aside for international fans either weren't sold or claimed. Traffic scared away locals. Would-be visitors were scared away by pre-Olympic stories of disease, dirty water and crime.
They're probably all valid factors, on some level.
Combine that with how Rio organizers say 11 percent of the advance-purchased tickets - and 55 percent of the tickets given out for free to needy kids in the Rio area - weren't used, and it's easy to see how the crowd issue became an issue.
''I don't want to go too long into this because it might sound as an excuse,'' Rio Games spokesman Mario Andrada said. ''I believe we faced this issue without looking for excuses, but rather looking for explanations.''
But Andrada said the games broke the financial target for sales even while the attendance numbers lagged, something he attributed to high-priced tickets getting sold early to marquee events.
''Numbers mislead,'' Andrada said.
The cheapest available ticket to track and field Thursday morning was about $31, the most expensive about $109 - and for the night session, with Bolt set to try for a third straight gold in the 200-meter dash, the top price was nearly $300. For diving, the prices ranged from $75 on the low end for the morning session, $281 on the high end for the afternoon session. Plenty of those seats were available.
But for volleyball, a sport wildly popular among Brazilians, tickets were gone even with a steep price. The best seats for the men's beach final Thursday night were all sold at $375 each.
The men's gold-medal soccer match at Maracana had a top ticket value of around $300; that was also sold out, organizers said. But the closing ceremony may have empty seats - the two cheapest levels of tickets ($62, $187) have all been sold, but the three most expensive tiers ($437, $655 and $936) all were available.
Officials steadfastly insist empty seats won't hurt Rio's legacy.
''We cannot regret something,'' Andrada said, ''that we cannot fix.''