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Tick, tick, tickets – defusing an Olympic PR bomb

By Guest Contributor
July 21, 2011

-Adrian Warner is BBC London’s Olympics Correspondent. The opinions expressed are his own.-

The morning after his surprise 800 metres defeat by Steve Ovett at the 1980 Moscow Olympics,  Seb Coe was sitting in his bed in the Olympic village when former decathlete and close friend Daley Thompson stormed into the room. Thompson went straight to the curtains and opened them up.

“What’s the weather like?” Coe asked.

“Oh, it all looks a bit silver to me,” Thompson replied.

Coe smiled but the comment hurt a bit. He had been favourite to beat his British rival in the 800 and was waking up to the disappointment of having missed out on an Olympic title. But Thompson’s comment helped him to bounce back and produce one of the most memorable comebacks in Olympic history when he won the 1,500 a few days later.

Today Coe is facing the most challenging days he has faced as chairman of London 2012′s organising committee. He is going to need some of that determination again with just over a year to go to the opening ceremony.

The way the tickets have been sold has not gone down well with the British public. With only one in 12 households in London estimated to have received tickets for the Games, Coe knows he has to get more people into the venues to keep the Olympic buzz in the capital. More than 1.2 million of the 1.9 million applicants missed out in the first round when the most attractive tickets went on sale. One survey by London’s Evening Standard recently suggested more than half of the public thought the system was unfair.

So Coe has a big public relations job on his hands to make sure the good feeling about the Games is not lost in the next 12 months. My reporting job at the BBC gets me talking to ordinary Londoners every day. The most common word I hear about 2012 now is “detached.” After all the excitement about the Olympics since London won the bid six years ago, some people feel they are no longer part of the Games because they won’t be able to go.

The irony of all this is that Coe is a star in the International Olympic Committee over tickets. His organisation has sold out tickets for events like dressage, canoe slalom and BMX cycling — hardly major box office attractions. Athletes turning up for morning heats will be greeted by a full stadium, which is pretty rare at major championships and Olympics. The TV networks across the world, who pay millions of dollars for exclusive rights, will be delighted with that. People watch TV when they see a full venue.

Coe just needs to find a way of releasing more tickets to the public to change the mood at home. Some tickets will go on sale early next year when all the media and TV requirements in the venues are finalised. The game’s not over yet but it’s a big challenge for the double Olympic champion.

You can Adrian’s BBC blog at http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/adrianwarner/.

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