As tickets for the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy, go on sale today in the United States, organizers are trying to extricate themselves from a management crisis and budget shortfall.
But executives at CoSport, the U.S. Olympic Committee's official ticket supplier, said they have this on their side as they try to drum up enthusiasm for the first Olympics in Italy in 46 years:
At least it's not Athens.
"You saw the stands -- they were pretty empty at times," CoSport President Matt Bijur said. "We really see it as our goal to get Americans back in the seats."
Bijur blamed concerns about security -- both legitimate and exaggerated -- for sluggish U.S. sales for the Aug. 13-29 Olympics. Cartan Tours, the U.S. distributor for the Athens Games, fell well short of its initial projections of 120,000 tickets sold, tallying just over 90,000.
CoSport has been allocated 21,169 tickets, 55 percent for distribution as individual tickets to the general public, 25 percent for ticket packages and the final 20 percent for ticket and lodging packages, according to USOC spokesman Darryl Seibel.
"We expect those folks who were intimidated by Athens to come back," Bijur said. "Our goal is really to sell out everything."
Bijur played down the power struggle among Turin organizers that culminated last week in the decision of organizing committee chief Valentino Castellani to resign. Castellani changed his mind yesterday after meeting with newly appointed Games overseer Mario Pescante, whom he had claimed would undermine his authority via his new position. Various government officials and Pescante himself had begged Castellani to remain in the post.
Bijur pointed out that the organizing committees for the last two Olympic Games have faced major shakeups -- not to mention other problems -- at the highest levels at similar periods. Mitt Romney joined the Salt Lake Organizing Committee three years before the start of the 2002 Winter Games after bribery charges forced out the former organizers, and Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki rejoined Athens organizers in 2000 after calls for the Games to be moved because of poor preparations.
"It's in our best interest that [the Games] are stable and well run, but it's not affecting the way we are doing things," Bijur said.
Italian companies have been slow to support the Turin Games, which will take place Feb. 10-26 in 2006, while organizers have faced charges of excessive spending on food, wine and plane tickets that some blame for contributing to a $227 million budget shortfall.
Between today and Dec. 22, Americans may make requests for tickets to individual events, which will be allocated randomly if demand exceeds supply, or they may purchase ticket packages immediately that will guarantee the tickets they want.
Individual tickets range in price from about $30 for low-demand events such as biathlon up to about $1,200 for the Opening Ceremonies, Bijur said. Ticket packages that include at least one marquee event such as figure skating will start at just over $300 for three events and will max out at nearly $2,000 for six events.
In February, CoSport also will begin selling hospitality packages that include accommodations, transportation and other amenities, Bijur said.
These Games will be the first for which CoSport supplies Olympic tickets to the U.S. market, which it earned by becoming an official Games sponsor. Ticket requests or purchases can be made at www.cosport.com or by calling 877-457-4647 after 10 a.m. today through Dec. 22.
CoSport's exclusive contract means Cartan Tours, which has been the USOC-designated ticket supplier for eight Olympics, may no longer sell tickets. Cartan, however, will still offer a range of travel and accommodation packages that require only a three-night minimum stay, shorter than the company has ever offered.
"People are looking for more flexibility," Cartan Tours Vice President of Sales Don Williams said. "They are making it part of a vacation instead of a total vacation."