Few things perturb revenue-obsessed Olympic organizers so much as someone hitching a free ride on their bandwagon. Ticket scalpers and ambush advertisers are but two of the many challenges. In Beijing, scalpers were rounded up and either summarily deported, if they were foreigners, or sent for “re-education” if they were Chinese.
VANOC, the Vancouver Olympic Organizing Committee for the 2010 Winter Games, lacks the tools of a totalitarian state to deal with freeloaders. It has its own tactics. Consider its novel approach to online ticket sales. The first wave of tickets went on offer Oct. 3, but “no need to rush,” advises VANOC. All orders between then and the closing date of Nov. 7 have an equal chance of being filled—by lottery, in the case of high-demand events like the gold medal hockey game (see www.vancouver2010.com). This is an attempt, in part, to thwart the usual first-come, first-served free-for-all, which is rife with abuse by scalpers and reselling agencies using computer programs to bump to the head of the Internet line. This also gives you time to save: tickets for the opening ceremony on Feb. 12, for instance, run from $185 to $1,118, though organizers stress more than half of the 1.6 million public tickets cost $100 or less. Just make sure you buy them with Visa, an Olympic sponsor and the only plastic VANOC accepts.
VANOC is also protecting sponsors by spending $40 million to buy every square inch of outdoor advertising space in B.C.’s Lower Mainland, from billboards to transit buses, during the Games. The space will be resold to Olympic sponsors, giving them prime visibility, and keeping both corporate rivals and Olympic critics from the limelight. “Priceless,” a certain credit card company might say, if it were allowed to advertise.