Olympic Games: No such thing as free seat in Salt Lake City

ALREADY ROUNDLY criticised for their over-zealous generosity, the Salt Lake Olympics Committee have now said there will be no free tickets available for the 2002 Winter Games. Prime seats for speed skating events will cost up to pounds 106, ski-jumping at the Utah Winter Sports Park will set spectators back between pounds 66 and pounds 115, and seats for the ice hockey final will cost up to pounds 260.

The SLOC chief operating officer, Fraser Bullock, said on Thursday that the goal was to make the most money possible on the popular events while keeping cheap seats available at as many venues as possible. The aim is to bring in pounds 110m in ticket revenue. There are some bargains to be had, however: a pounds 21 ticket will get fans in to see bobsled, luge, curling, figure skating or Alpine skiing, while Nordic skiing prices start at pounds 18.

Those savings may well be offset by budget-busting prices for the opening and closing ceremonies. The numbers have not been set but are likely to fall somewhere between next summer's games in Sydney - where ceremony tickets will cost pounds 590 - and the 1996 ceremonies in Atlanta, pounds 455 at today's prices.

"We do know that we're going to be less than Sydney. We're not going to go higher than that," Bullock said. But entrance to some sporting events may end up costing even more, because the SLOC plans to put the first 86,600 seats - 10 percent of all public tickets - up for auction on the Internet. With bids starting at the face value of the tickets, expect prices to soar.

Rather than an attempt to gouge spectators, SLOC officials say, the move is an attempt to foil ticket touts, who pushed prices for the Winter Olympics in Nagano and Lillehammer up by as much as 10 times face value. SLOC hopes to have its auction online next August.

"We know those tickets are going to be sold on the Internet anyway," Bullock said. "So it might as well be by us."

Another 20 per cent of tickets will be allocated to Utah residents, who will get two or three months to buy them with priority seating. The remaining public tickets will be sold through a lottery similar to the one operated for the Atlanta Games, through the Internet and by mail.

Olympic sponsors will pay for their own tickets, but will get first pick of seating and will take about 13 per cent of the tickets. In a new experiment, SLOC hopes sponsors will agree to donate any unused seats to Utah youngsters. In Atlanta, those last-minute drop-out tickets were resold and the proceeds split between the committee and the sponsors.

Beyond the public seats, SLOC calculates the media will take up 243,233 seats. Participating athletes, the International Olympic Committee, international sports federations and other members of the "Olympic family" will get another 66,000 seats, trimmed down by about a third from SLOC's original estimate.

SLOC plans to present its ticket structure to the IOC in Greece on 4 October, and hopes to have IOC approval for the plan by the end of the year.

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