All the concerns about human rights and safety might be catching up with the organizers of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. The Associated Press reported this week that hundreds of thousands of tickets to next month’s games remain unsold, with fans staying away because of cost, security and visa issues.
The organizers say 70 percent of 1.1 million tickets have been sold, while 15 percent are being held for sale once the games begin. They are confident that last-minute sales will prevent the embarrassment of empty seats. The Olympics have has been touted as a source of great pride for Russian President Vladimir Putin, despite its numerous problems, including terrorism concerns.
Last month, two blasts just a day apart killed more than 30 people in the southern city of Volgograd. Wednesday, Russian authorities issued notices for “black widows” sent to carry out attacks and disrupt the Olympics, including one thought to be in Sochi already.
Such threats would explain why ticket sales have slowed down in recent months. In October, RIA Novosti reported that 60 percent of the tickets had been sold in two installments, with the third and final release scheduled for Nov. 10. Now, there are about 300,000 left.
Last week, Bloomberg Businessweek noted that listings of tickets on fan resale sites had increased by 50 percent from the week before, suggesting that “availability is far greater than the demand.”
By comparison, 97 percent of the 1.54 million available tickets to the 2010 games in Vancouver were sold. U.S. fans were notified of the near-sellout more than 13 months before the opening ceremony.
Because of security concerns, Russia can’t expect a boost from foreign fans. And it probably will have a tough time selling domestic fans on the cost, despite organizing committing Chairman Dmitry Chernyshenko’s optimistic estimate that 75 percent of spectators will be Russian citizens. Putin has boasted the affordability of the tickets — the cheapest tickets cost $15 and more than half the tickets sell for less than $150 — but the problem most Russians face is accessibility. Transportation to the remote city of Sochi is largely out of reach, with flights costing more than half the average monthly salary of $860.
Coupled with the unattainable prices of the merchandise in Sochi’s Olympic Village, including a $720 polyester winter coat and a ski jacket that runs $400 — on sale — it’s clear that this Winter Games is not for the everyman. Given its lackluster ticket sales, it might not be for any man, either.
Kavitha A. Davidson is a Bloomberg View columnist who writes about sports.