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Olympic ticket sales sizzle; prime seats still available

SHARE Olympic ticket sales sizzle; prime seats still available

Ticket sales for the 2002 Games are hotter than the Olympic torch, but you can still get seats for Salt Lake City's big party.

"With one year to go, we've reached sales revenues greater than Nagano's total at the start of the '98 Olympics. We're very pleased and proud of the successful ticket sales so far," Salt Lake Organizing Committee spokesperson Caroline Shaw said Monday at a news conference at SLOC headquarters.

Letters of confirmation went out Monday to buyers in the first round of the opening U.S. public sale. They snapped up 530,441 of 793,000 general-public tickets available to host-country patrons. Eighty-three percent of those buyers received tickets for at least one of their choices; 40 percent were awarded all their choices.

They'll have a chance to add to their orders beginning Feb. 20.

"They can either go for second or third options to their original requests or ask for refunds," said Mark Walker, SLOC media and communications manager.

Most of the tickets awarded — 309,051 — came through Olympic Experience Packages. These packages, and use of the Internet, have been the two keys to the booming ticket sales so far.

The Salt Lake Games are the first to use the Internet for placing orders — perhaps surprising in an increasingly high-tech age but a technique that's obviously here to stay.

"The members of the IOC were very pleased with our ticket process. With 95 percent of our sales coming through the Internet, I believe Athens and Torino will really bore in on what we're doing, although 20 years from now what we do will seem elementary," SLOC president Mitt Romney said in a teleconference with the media, after addressing the International Olympic Committee board in Senegal.

With a 61 percent subscription rate, Salt Lake City has outstripped Nagano (52 percent), Atlanta (46 percent) and Sydney (30 percent) in one-year-out numbers. The robust sales means SLOC already has generated $161 million of its $180 million budget for ticket revenue.

"We budgeted for selling 80 percent of total tickets, and we're tickled to death that we're this close to our break-even (point)," said John Bennion, SLOC managing director of Games services, adding that Sydney and Lillehammer eventually sold 90 percent of total tickets.

Bennion said 70 of 165 sessions no longer are available through normal public, single-purchase avenues. The competitions that have sold all these types of tickets are: women's figure skating, all speedskating, men's hockey medal rounds, men's downhill and free-style skiing.

The men's aerial competition, Feb. 19 at Deer Valley, in fact, was the single most requested event, Shaw said.

The most requested Olympic Experience Package was a package including women's figure skating Feb. 19, men's and women's skeleton Feb. 20, women's cross-country Feb. 21 and women's figure skating Feb. 21.

Even seats for "sold-out" events can be obtained by those willing to pay higher prices for premium packages. These are prime seat locations up front, intended to help in major fund-raising for the Games.

And a small number of tickets for "sold-out" events — fewer than 500 in each case — still can be obtained through Internet purchase of Olympic Experience Packages.

The next general public sale will be held "sometime this spring," Shaw said. And tickets will be sold through an auction over the Internet, scheduled to begin "sometime in June." The exact dates will be announced later.

Even tickets for events such as curling, little known or followed in the United States, are getting scarce, Shaw said. The small venue at the Weber County Ice Sheet is one reason curling is becoming a tough ticket, but obviously there is an appetite for an Olympic experience of any kind and consumers are biting.

The cross-country/biathlon events at Soldier Hollow are 50 percent subscribed.

"But," Bennion said, "these are the kinds of venues, with lots of competitions and large outdoor areas, where a lot of opportunity remains for tickets."

E-MAIL: gtwyman@desnews.com