Has anyone else noticed the enormous number of empty seats in many events at the Olympics? NPR did a story yesterday afternoon about this. They interviewed a young Chinese woman (I think they said she was 18) who was in tears about how much she had wanted to see Federer in a tennis match. "I just love him so much" she said, obviously weeping. She had waited in line for hours to get a ticket only to be turned away at the counter saying they were sold out. But there were empty seats...lots and lots of empty seats when the reporter watched the match with her press pass.
On the human interest side, who could help but have sympathy for this young fan who had probably been looking forward to seeing her sports idol for years only to be turned away at the last minute?
But what I found interesting in the story was the reason why fans were being turned away even though there were open seats. Party big shots and well connected business types had grabbed up all the tickets and reserved them for clients. But the clients aren't showing up to the actual events and I think I've figured out why. Suppose you are a corrupt politician or businessman in China. You're unethical but not a fool. You want to hand out Olympic tickets as favors to people who you hope will later help you in something that actually matters. But you don't want to offer your client a ticket to a swim meet only to find that they're really volleyball fans. So you grab up lots of both kinds of tickets (or actually, you get a wide selection of tickets). But your clients can only go to one event at a time so the rest of the tickets you offered them go unused. Of course corporate fat cats grab up lots of tickets to the Super Bowl, World Series or World Cup too. But those events are only one sport at a time. So you don't have the problem having to over supply options to clients.
Obviously, this looks bad for the Chinese government. They want this to be the most successful Olympics ever. It just looks bad to have world wide TV showing all those empty seats. So NPR is reporting that the government is bringing in gangs of hired cheerleaders who sit in as many of the empty seats as they can fill on short notice and yell and wave flags. Meanwhile the young fan sits and cries at home.
This kind of SNAFU is typical of governments with a command economy mindset. First, they don't just trust that the market will fill the seats. Then, because power is concentrated and unaccountable, the planned system they set up to make sure the seats got filled gets corrupted and fails flamboyantly.
In comments on an earlier posting, Bert Q. Slushbrow pointed out that people in China are very upset about the Party big shots getting their kids inserted in the opening ceremonies. I'm curious if the seat/ticket situation has reached that level of outrage.