Under-fire LOCOG defended over empty seats response

The controversy over empty seats at the Olympic Games has been handled quickly and effectively, comms experts have claimed.

Spaces: The Olympics Aquatics Centre was one of the venues left with empty seats over the weekend. Credit: LOCOG
Spaces: The Olympics Aquatics Centre was one of the venues left with empty seats over the weekend. Credit: LOCOG

The London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG) has promised to investigate why rows of seats were left empty at a range of events across the weekend, prompting criticism in the media.

The body also brought in members of the army to fill some of the spaces left by unclaimed tickets, while Lord Coe urged that the seating row be kept in perspective.

James Thellusson, head corporate affairs and b2b at Lexis, praised the swift reaction of the Games’ organisers.

‘I think that actually LOCOG reacted very quickly, as did the Olympic machine as a whole. The messaging was good, in that they didn’t try to hide the issue, and they also had a plan on how to react.’

Among the events hit worst by a lack of crowds were the swimming, gymnastics and tennis.

The problem is thought to be centred on the ‘Olympic family’, which includes officials, sports federations and journalists, with LOCOG stating the problem was with accredited groups such as governing bodies and the media.

Thellusson added: ‘It was ringfenced as not a sponsor problem – which might be the conclusion most people would jump to – and the sponsors reacted very quickly as well, with a number issuing statements saying they were taking up their allocations.’

James Gordon-MacIntosh, co-founder of Hope&Glory, also defended the organiser's handling of the issue.

He said the problem was a common one around sports events, and claimed that in identifying the ‘Olympic family’ LOCOG had played a master stroke.

Gordon-MacIntosh said: ‘They’ve done a pretty good job of passing the blame on to this nebulous group of people that could be anyone. They have also been helped by the fact that the true story of why these seats are empty is one that suits them from a narrative point of view.

‘They will be able to suggest that LOCOG has stepped in like a white knight to sort out this problem and take tickets from visiting dignitaries who can’t be bothered to turn up, handing them back to the public and emerging as good guys.’

Among the solutions proposed, head of the British Olympic Association Lord Moynihan has called for a 30-minute rule on ticketing, with people who fail to turn up on time losing their seats. The plan was first suggested by Commucan director David Prescott in a blog on Saturday.

However, despite being impressed with the handling of the situation over the weekend, Thellusson warned of the dangers if the issue dragged out longer. 

He added: ‘Lord Coe talked about naming and shaming, but if he doesn’t do it there will be media working on the story. If the story keeps on running they will be the ones doing the naming and shaming rather than Lord Coe.’

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