Photographer: Leon Neal/AFP via Getty Images

Rio 2016 Insists Ticket Sale Target Reached Amid Empty Seats

  • Usain Bolt used last minute sales push for unsold tickets
  • Rio 2016 says 1.05 billion reais ticket sale target surpassed

Track and field opened at the Rio Olympics today, and the big story wasn’t what was happening on the track, but the banks of empty seats that greeted the first athletes. While embarrassing for organizers, it isn’t hitting them in the pocket.

Rio 2016, the local organizing committee, has been forced to make cuts to ensure it stays within a 7.4 billion reais budget. Even though the first week of games has struggled to pack venues, the amount of cash needed from the ticketing category has surpassed the 1.05 billion reais target, according to a spokesman.

"We are at 105 percent of that," the spokesman said.

Arenas have been raucous yet sparsely filled for sports ranging from golf, soccer and beach volleyball, a sport that Brazil, not known for its Olympic success, can expect to win medals. Highlighting the push to get last minute sales was a video posted by Usain Bolt, the fastest man on the planet. The Jamaican says: "I’m Usain Bolt I’m here in Rio to make history so make sure you buy a ticket and come out and watch."

Organizers claimed 58 percent of tickets had been sold for Friday morning’s track and field session, but television audiences around the world could see that wasn’t the case. Those present witnessed Ethiopia’s Almaz Ayana smash the women’s 10,000-meter record.

Rio 2016’s director of communications Mario Andrada blamed the no shows on ticket holders wanting to watch one particular game or athlete and VIPs and sponsors not taking up their allocation.

"We’re seeing some sponsors not living up their responsibility for tickets," said Andrada. "There was a sense that some corporate tickets haven’t been used."

On the first day of the games, some fans with tickets were left frustrated with lines as long as two kilometers to enter arenas. That meant that many fans only arrived in venues as games reached their climax. With several sports reaching their climax next week, organizers expect to see fewer empty seats.

"Sessions will be much better," the spokesman said.