South Korea seeks to boost slow ticket sales
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.”
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.
A campaign held earlier this month in Chuncheon to encourage the public to purchase online tickets for the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in South Korea.