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Olympic lottery personifies Santa and Scrooge

Figure skating tickets prove tough to come by

Figure skating tickets are proving hard to come by for the 2010 Games.
Figure skating tickets are proving hard to come by for the 2010 Games. (courtesy VANOC)

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By Laurie Nealin, special to icenetwork.com
(12/22/2008) - Santa Claus or Scrooge?

For those Canadians who got word last week that they were "winners" in the 2010 Winter Olympics ticket lottery, it was as if Christmas had come early with the Olympic Organizing Committee playing Santa.

For the unlucky ones whose requests for the precious Vancouver Games tickets resulted in the proverbial lump of coal, thoughts of Scrooge were more likely dancing in their heads.

Among the winners was Ted Barton, executive director of Skate Canada B.C. and an ISU consultant for event production. Despite his affiliations, Barton, like any other member of the public, had to hope he would come up lucky when he put in his request for four tickets to all the Olympic figure skating events, including the exhibition. He came away with four tickets to each of the men's and pairs short programs and the original dance round.

"That wasn't too bad, but it's still a drop in the bucket," said Barton, who figures his chances of ever getting tickets to the finals are slim.

"They [the Vancouver Organizing Committee] have done the Canadian thing. They've been fair to everyone. That doesn't happen in every Games. This system was created to ensure scalpers couldn't grab a pile of tickets to sell to the rich. Everyone has equal opportunity. It doesn't mean everyone will get them," Barton noted.

Another hopeful buyer in Halifax put in his bid for tickets to all the figure skating finals and the opening ceremony. Greg Guy, the entertainment editor of the Halifax Chronicle-Herald and former Canadian editor of International Figure Skating Magazine, reported he notched a big zero on the figure skating front, but did snag two tickets to the very pricey, gala opening at $750 a pop. For the avowed figure skating fan, this poses somewhat of a dilemma.

"I don't want to travel all the way from Halifax to Vancouver and not see any skating," Guy said. "We were disappointed."

Asked if he had a Plan B, Guy joked, "We can always go and watch the skating on TV."

A colleague of Guy's at the newspaper, ended up with nothing in her quest for tickets, including seats to watch the short program rounds. Her sister in Toronto, who requested tickets to see sports other than figure skating, also came up empty-handed.

While no one could argue with the fact that requests for tickets to the marquee Games events -- like figure skating and hockey -- far exceeded the number of tickets available, potential buyers who got the short end of the stick found the outcome of the computerized allocations somewhat disconcerting. At issue was the fact that the luckiest among the applicants got tickets to multiple events, while other people got absolutely nothing.

According to VANOC, the randomness of the ticket allocation produced those results. The process was even audited to ensure it functioned as it should.

First, each event request on a person's order list was assigned a random number by a specialized computer program. The program then searched through those numbers to fill ticket orders according to the seat inventory available in each venue. The more people that applied for tickets to a particular event -- such as the figure skating competitions -- the odds of coming up a winner were obviously longer.

People who requested the priciest tickets had an advantage over those who placed orders for the least expensive tickets. That's because the computer could allocate less expensive seats to those willing to pay the highest tab, but would not search for more expensive tickets for people who had ordered the low-end tickets.

Canadians requested some $345 million worth of tickets, but only around $96 million worth was actually available in the lottery. For the most popular sports, demand significantly exceeded supply. Ice hockey, for example, had 144,000 people apply for between two and four tickets to watch the gold medal game in a venue that seats only about 18,000. Perhaps only 11,000 seats will be available to the public at the figure skating venue, assuming tickets available for the Olympic competitions will be similar to the number available for the ISU Four Continents Championships being held there in February.

Still, all is not lost for the lottery "losers" or for any Canadians, who missed the initial request period. There will be another chance to vie for tickets in mid-2009 when any remaining tickets available for the public go on sale after venue seat-kills are finalized. In the coming months, VANOC will also launch a resale program so that people who bought tickets but are unable to use them for whatever reason, can put those tickets back on the market. More information is available at www.vancouver2010.com.

In the U.S., people looking to buy tickets to the 2010 Games do so through CoSport. Residents of Australia, Austria, Bulgaria, and Sweden are also able to make purchases for the Vancouver Games through CoSport. Like Canada, however, the deadline for the first ticket requests has passed and initial allocations made, although the company's website (www.cosport.com) says more tickets will be offered in 2009.