Olympic ticket sales for Paris Games get off to rocky start

Organizers of next year’s Paris Olympics promised relatively modest prices and egalitarian access to events, thanks to an online system meant to revolutionize ticket sales and bring the masses to stadiums and arenas for as little as $26.

As the month-long opening round of sales winds down, however, many “lucky” winners chosen to shop for the first 3 million tickets (out of 10 million total) are feeling frustrated, angry and cheated.

Their only option during the 48-hour purchasing window was paying at least 200 euros ($212) per ticket for the few remaining events on offer. And because the new ticketing system requires buying packages for multiple sports, overall costs for many buyers ran into thousands of dollars.

By the time English teacher Amélie Beney and her 9-year-old son won the lottery last week to log in to the Olympic ticket office, affordable tickets for many events were gone, and all but one of their preferred sports — BMX, water polo and soccer — was sold out.

There were tickets for a soccer match at 50 euros ($53) but Beney would also have to buy at least two tickets for two additional events. Available tickets included basketball or handball at 150 euros ($160), swimming at 230 euros ($244) and a whopping 690 euros ($732) for a qualifying event in track and field.

“Who can afford tickets at that price?” Beney asked. “I can’t.”

Beney was disappointed and said her son’s enthusiasm for attending their home Olympics on his 10th birthday vanished as they logged off without buying anything.

“I really wanted to have tickets for the Olympics. I wanted my son to live that unique experience … in our city,” Beney said. “I became disillusioned (with the ticket system) and the prices. This is just insane.”

To buy tickets in the first round, your name had to be drawn from a lottery. Since Feb. 13, the lucky winners have been notified by email of their 48-hour window to buy between three and up to 30 tickets in at least three different events, out of 32 available. The first round of ticketing ends March 15.

Organizers say they are aware of the high demand and acknowledge that not everyone who wants to attend the Paris Olympics will manage to get a ticket, and fewer still will be able to get tickets at a bargain price.

“We know that people are going to be disappointed, and we know that we don’t have tickets for everybody,” Michael Aloisio, the deputy general manager of the Paris Olympics, said in an interview with The Associated Press. “But we also know that we have more selling phases opening soon with more tickets.”

Ticket sales are a substantial part of revenue — one third, according to Aloisio — that Paris organizers need to pay for the Olympics.

“The challenge for us was not to have this target compromise our goal to make these Games accessible,” Aloisio said.

The announcement last year that there will be 1 million tickets at 24 euros ($26) and more than 4 million for less than 50 euros ($53) was received with enthusiasm from fans in France and around the world. However, those tickets were scooped up during the first few days of the lottery, leaving those “lucky” to be drawn later with high prices and few events to choose from.

Aloisio said only 10% of all 10 million tickets cost more than 200 euros ($212).

“It’s these tickets that allow for other tickets to be more accessible and balance it all out,” he said.

Robin Allison Davis, a 38-year-old American and a self-declared “Olympics super fan,” said she wasn’t expecting to find a bargain when it was her turn to hunt for tickets in her favorite sports — gymnastics, swimming and track and field.

She was willing to pay 260 euros ($276) per ticket to watch two hours of a gymnastics qualifying event but then got frustrated when the online ticketing office appeared to have turned into a virtual casino.

“I knew it will be expensive, but why is the system that promised to give me freedom and choice to form my own Olympic package tricking me into buying expensive tickets in sports I don’t want to see if I want to get expensive tickets for an event I really want to see,” Davis said. “The ticket pack thing is a racket.”

Davis has lived in Paris for six-and-a-half years and works as a freelance journalist. She did not buy any tickets during the first round, saying that she will try her luck again in the second draw in May and splurge on individual tickets.

Aloisio, the organizing committee official, defended the ticket package system and said the Paris organizers aimed to arouse curiosity for other sports during the Olympics.

“These packages are a way to get people interested and buy tickets for a water polo semifinal, hockey or 7-a-side rugby, sports for which there may have been less demand,” Aloisio said.

In all, 10 million tickets for the Olympics and 3.4 million for the Paralympics will be made available on the online platform. Individual tickets will become available in the second round, which starts on May 11. Registration for that draw starts March 15.

The third phase is expected to start at the end of the year, when all remaining tickets will be put on sale. NICOLAS GARRIGA & BARBARA SURK, PARIS, MDT/AP

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