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COMMENT

8/5/2012

It is not often that I write of a personal experience in these columns, but on Saturday May 5 I had high expectations of the opening event of the London Olympic stadium. I'd been disappointed as an ordinary punter in trying to get tickets for any actual Olympic events. Indeed, it is one of the successes of the 2012 Games that ticket demand is so high. So when the 'London Prepares' event was announced as an evening of 'athletics and entertainment', it sounded like a great opportunity to experience something of the Olympics for myself and family. Hitting the online button the moment tickets went on sale was, this time, successful.

We realised that we were, to an extent guinea pigs. The stadium needed its safety certificate, the security and traffic flows needed testing so we were prepared to be patient. The initial experience was fine as we quickly went through the airport-style security and headed for the main stadium. It was then that things started going downhill. First, we approached offical sponsor 'Cadbury's' concession stand only to find that we were being charged a huge premium above normal shop prices. The same was true later for drinks with a glass of wine at least 20% above normal bar prices. Is this really the message that the Olympic community wants to send out - "Welcome to our Games, now prepare to be ripped off." With all of the investment that the UK has made in staging the 2012 Games, with the emphasis on how it can regenerate a huge swathe of a city and put London in the global spotlight for two weeks, is it really that necessary for sponsors and organisers to claw back a fraction of that investment through over-charging and leaving a bitter taste in all visitors' mouths?

Disappointment number two was the long queue to have our tickets scanned a second time. I couldn't really see the point in this having had them checked once and doubtless this will be something that is looked as part of the review of crowd management. I'm more than happy to accept this as part of the test.

The Stadium, itself lived up to all expectations. with comfortable seats, good sightlines and leg room. The British weather did its usual to spoil the occasion by providing light rain and near freezing temperatures - but this would have been more bearable had not the queues at the hot drinks concessions been so long - something that can, no doubt, be remedied by July.

The standard of athletics wasn't world class, mostly University teams, but that didn't detract from some very entertaining races - especially the relays.

When the athletics finished, we were promised a finale of entertainment. Oh dear! This started with a dismal, uninspiring video and gradually got worse. The 'Military Wives' destroyed the National Anthem in such a tuneless cackle that many in the audience didn't quite know how to respond. This was followed by a series of village fete type events in which minor 'celebrities' took part in, for example, a tug of war contest and a tandem bike race. The evening was sponsored by LOCOG partners Cadbury's and Visa and the level of 'sponsorship activation' was completely over the top. The tug of war, for example, was slightly held up while a series of Visa logos were placed alongside the rope. No piece of action could be introduced without a reference to the sponsor's name or to a frankly cheap prize on offer. Some chocolate lollies here, or £20.12 on a prepaid credit card there.

All in all, this was a major missed opportunity, we were ready to accept that there would be teething problems with logistics even if that wasn't stated in the promotion. But having paid good money for the tickets, it was reasonable to expect a decent level of entertainment.

IMR has been a champion of the London 2012 Games since the city won the right to stage them in 2005. We have stated that the very high levels of investment will pay off in the long-run and we have applauded the organisation which has seen all the facilities built on time. We have also complimented LOCOG for raising such huge levels of domestic sponsorship income which will pay for the actual staging of the Games.

Having got the big things right, I am now very concerned that the smaller things urgently need to be looked at. Fortunately the actual Games will be about world-class athletes and the British obsession with minor celebrities will be brushed aside for two weeks in the summer. It is also fortunate that it is the IOC that dictates the events that will take place and the pinnacle of sporting achievement will be the focus rather than British slapstick entertainment.

However, it is absolutely vital that the organisers consider how the ordinary punters experience the Games if they are to be a success. Millions of people from around the World will be turning up with tickets that - let's face it - are not cheap. If they are then overcharged for food and drink and have to endure uncessary queues, they won't be going home as ambassadors for London. There are less than three months to get this right and the clock is ticking.

 

 

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