TOKYO (AP) — Unprecedented demand for Tokyo Olympic tickets is driving interest in the Paralympics, although Tokyo may struggle to surpass London’s 2012 record.
Tokyo organizers said last week they have sold 600,000 Paralympic tickets in the first of several lotteries, and are touting records set for the number of people who participated.
However, London in the same phase sold 1 million tickets and wound up with record sales reported at 2.7 million.
Tokyo has several more sales phases to go, although organizers estimate only 2.3 million tickets will be available. That number could grow, pushed by demand from millions of fans in Japan who can’t get Olympic tickets.
Craig Spence, the spokesman for the international Paralympic Committee, sounded optimistic that Tokyo’s sales could surpass London.
“The demand for tickets has absolutely blown London out of the water,” Spence said.
However, Tokyo spokesman Masa Takaya would not say how many Paralympic tickets were requested in the first lottery phase.
Tokyo organizers have repeatedly declined to divulge the level of demand in Japan for Olympic tickets, and now Paralympic tickets.
Olympic demand in Japan is believed to exceed supply by at least 10 times — probably more. This has left many residents disappointed, without tickets, and wondering why.
Japanese applying for Olympic tickets have complained in interviews and on social media about not getting tickets despite $25 billion being spent to organize the games . All but $5.6 billion of that is taxpayer money.
Takaya said the reason for not disclosing ticket demand was to protect “future sales strategy.”
Tokyo organizers have sold a record of just over $3 billion in local sponsorship , almost three times more than any other Olympics.
Demand in Tokyo is driven by the sprawling metropolitan area of 35 million, and is in sharp contrast to the Olympics three years ago in Rio. Spence said only 50,000 Paralympic tickets had been sold in Brazil five weeks before the event, which was saved by a last-minute government bailout.
Jonathan Jensen, who studies sports marketing at the University of North Carolina, said local organizers needed to reserve a large pool of tickets to meet sponsor requests, but must avoid being seen to be reducing the tickets available to the Japanese general public
“When you have so many sponsors, you have very large guarantees to deliver tickets to them as part of their sponsorship packages,” Jensen said in an email. “In addition, being vague about availability and timing allows them to wait as long as possible to ensure they don’t unload tickets they might need for sponsors later. Once they’re gone, they’re gone.”
Michael Payne, the former IOC marketing director, said unprecedented demand had complicated life for Tokyo organizers.
“It’s complex with many moving parts,” Payne said in an email. “There are 30-plus sports as opposed to one, all happening at the same time and historic levels of demand.”
Alibaba, the Chinese online e-commerce company, was appointed earlier this year by the International Olympic Committee to handle ticketing beginning with the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.
Ticketing has been difficult at every Olympics. Three years ago in Rio de Janeiro, IOC member Patrick Hickey was arrested for allegedly trying to scalp tickets.
The IOC said Alibaba would run ticketing services and manage data over “several games” but did not specify how many, or how the data would be managed or secured.
On the Olympic side, Tokyo has sold 3.57 million tickets to Japan residents though two lotteries. The Japanese general public is slated to get between 70-80% of the estimated 7.8 million tickets that are listed as available.
The difference between 70% and 80% amounts to 780,000 tickets, which gives organizers flexibility in how they distribute tickets.
The rest of the tickets are sold outside Japan through Authorized Ticket Resellers — the Olympic agents contracted to sell tickets outside Japan — or go to sponsors, national Olympic committees, sports federations, and dignitaries.
Organizers are planning another lottery this fall for Japan residents but have declined to say how many tickets will be available.
Victor Matheson, a sports economist at College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, said the massive demand suggested tickets should have been priced higher.
“If they have way more demand than supply, then someone hasn’t done a very good job of pricing tickets,” Matheson said. “If you have 10 times more people wanting tickets at the current price … you should have charged a higher price.”