South Korea seeks to boost slow ticket sales

The Myanmar Times - - Sport -

WITH five months to go be­fore the Pyeongchang Win­ter Olympics open, the Games are barely an af­ter­thought for most South Kore­ans.

Lo­cal ticket sales are slow amid the big­gest po­lit­i­cal scan­dal in years and a tor­rent of North Korean weapons tests.

Or­gan­is­ers want more than a mil­lion spec­ta­tors for the Games, which start in Fe­bru­ary, and ex­pect 70 per­cent of those to be lo­cals. But if South Kore­ans are ex­cited about the Olympics, they didn’t fully show it dur­ing the first phase of ticket sales be­tween Fe­bru­ary and June — the 52,000 tick­ets pur­chased by lo­cals dur­ing the pe­riod were less than 7 per­cent of the 750,000 seats or­gan­is­ers aim to sell do­mes­ti­cally.

In­ter­na­tional sales got off to a faster start with more than half of the tar­geted 320,000 seats sold. But now there’s con­cern that an in­creas­ingly bel­liger­ent North Korea, which has tested two ICBMs and its strong­est ever nu­clear bomb in re­cent weeks, might keep for­eign fans away from Pyeongchang, a ski re­sort town about 80 kilo­me­tres south of the world’s most heav­ily armed bor­der.

South Korean or­gan­is­ers re­launched on­line ticket sales on Sept 5 and hope for a late surge in do­mes­tic sales as the Games draw closer. Lo­cals pur­chased nearly 17,000 tick­ets on the first two days of re­sumed sales.

In a re­cent in­ter­view with the As­so­ci­ated Press, Lee Hee-beom, pres­i­dent of Pyeongchang’s or­gan­is­ing com­mit­tee, said the North is highly un­likely to cause prob­lems dur­ing the Olympics be­cause North Korean ath­letes could com­pete in the South. This is not yet clear, though. North Korea is tra­di­tion­ally weak at win­ter sports, though a fig­ure skat­ing pair has a chance to qual­ify and or­gan­is­ers are look­ing at ways to ar­range spe­cial en­tries for North Korean ath­letes.

Lee also linked his op­ti­mism about ticket sales to South Korean ex­pe­ri­ence man­ag­ing past global events, in­clud­ing the 1988 Sum­mer Olympics in Seoul, three Asian Games and the 2002 World Cup soc­cer tour­na­ment.

“This is a coun­try that sold more than 8 mil­lion tick­ets even for the Expo 2012 in Yeosu,” said Lee, 68, a for­mer Cabi­net min­is­ter and cor­po­rate CEO. “We can def­i­nitely han­dle a mil­lion tick­ets.”

LO­CAL AP­A­THY

Korean or­gan­is­ers have over­come con­struc­tion de­lays, lo­cal con­flicts over venues, and a slow pace in at­tract­ing do­mes­tic spon­sor­ships. They must now fig­ure out how to cre­ate gen­uine lo­cal ex­cite­ment for the Games and boost ticket sales.

The 1988 Olympics in Seoul were eas­ier. Those Games marked South Korea’s ar­rival on the world stage as a grow­ing in­dus­trial power and bud­ding democ­racy.

In what’s now the world’s 11th-rich­est na­tion, there’s no longer an ob­vi­ous pub­lic crav­ing for the global at­ten­tion brought by host­ing a large sports event. There’s also worry over the huge cost of host­ing the Games and main­tain­ing fa­cil­i­ties that might go un­used once the party leaves town.

Or per­haps South Kore­ans, af­ter a whirl­wind past year, are sim­ply too tired to be en­thu­si­as­tic about the Olympics. Mil­lions took to the streets last year and early this year over a cor­rup­tion scan­dal that even­tu­ally top­pled the pres­i­dent from power and landed her in jail, where she re­mains dur­ing an on­go­ing trial.

It also doesn’t help that South Korea has never re­ally had a strong win­ter sports cul­ture, said Hee­joon Chung, a sports science pro­fes­sor at Bu­san’s Dong-A Univer­sity.

“I don’t think there are many peo­ple who are will­ing to stay out­doors in the cold for hours to watch races on snow,” he said. Lee, the or­ga­niz­ing com­mit­tee pres­i­dent, is, un­sur­pris­ingly, more op­ti­mistic. Most South Kore­ans tend to wait un­til the last minute to buy tick­ets, and the at­mos­phere will im­prove once the Olympic torch re­lay ar­rives in South Korea in Novem­ber, he said.

Novem­ber is also when or­gan­is­ers will start to sell tick­ets off­line at air­ports and train sta­tions. Kim Dai-kyun, director gen­eral of com­mu­ni­ca­tions for Pyeongchang’s or­gan­is­ing com­mit­tee, said strong ad­ver­tise­ment cam­paigns are planned for tele­vi­sion, news­pa­pers, movie the­atres and on the in­ter­net.

Strong ticket sales are crit­i­cal be­cause or­ga­niz­ers are cur­rently $267 mil­lion short of the $2.4 bil­lion they need to op­er­ate the Games. Lee ex­pects new spon­sors to sign on and help erase the gap.

Or­gan­is­ers also aim to raise $155 mil­lion by sell­ing about 1.07 mil­lion tick­ets, or 90 per­cent of the 1.18 mil­lion avail­able seats. The 229,000 seats sold dur­ing the first phase of ticket sales equal about 21 per­cent of the target. While this might seem mod­est, Lee said Pyeongchang has been sell­ing tick­ets at a faster pace than Sochi was at a sim­i­lar point ahead of the 2014 Win­ter Olympics.

The Olympics will cost about $12.4 bil­lion for South Korea, in­clud­ing the $9.7 bil­lion be­ing spent to con­struct roads, rail­ways and sta­di­ums for the Games. This is larger than the $7 to 8 bil­lion Seoul pro­jected as the over­all cost when Pyeongchang won the bid in 2011.

Kim Hee-soon, director of tick­et­ing for Pyeongchang’s or­gan­is­ing com­mit­tee, said or­gan­is­ers aim to sell 50 per­cent of their tar­geted seats by Novem­ber. They hope to reach 80 to 90 per­cent of the target by late Jan­uary and sell the re­main­der of the tick­ets dur­ing the Games that be­gin on Feb 9, she said.

Photo: AP

A cam­paign held ear­lier this month in Chun­cheon to en­cour­age the pub­lic to pur­chase on­line tick­ets for the Pyeongchang Win­ter Olympics in South Korea.

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