I was walking through Trafalgar Square yesterday morning, like you do, when I noticed a media kerfuffle. Closer scrutiny revealed the grinning faces of One Show presenters Adrian Chiles and Christine Bleakley behind a row of four white seats. They were accompanied by some tracksuited folk I assumed were a photogenic selection of Olympic and Paralympic athletes. And there was a big sign exhorting people to "Sign Up" for London 2012 tickets. How very exciting, I thought. But, on exploring some of the accompanying press releases more carefully, I'm not convinced it's exciting at all.
"Tickets for the London 2012 Olympic Games and Paralympic Games will go on sale in 2011. You can make a start by registering your interest with us." Sounds good. But this doesn't mean you can sign up for tickets. Yesterday's announcement merely allows you to sign up for information about tickets.
"Right now, we're asking people to sign up on the ticketing website and make sure they're in the front row for information." Signing up now doesn't even get you to the head of the ticketing queue. All it does is add your information to London 2012's database, which helps to stop their ticketing website crashing next spring under weight of demand. You'll not get your Olympic tickets any quicker by signing up today - indeed you can still sign up next February and suffer no ill effects.
"Sign up now and you will be among the first to hear about ticketing news and other exciting events and offers." All that signing up brings, for now, is a series of automated emails from London 2012 about stuff they'd like you to hear. It's not clear at this stage whether this means lots of messages at spam frequency, or else one single email next Spring alerting you to the fact that tickets are about to go on sale. But I defy anyone living in Britain next Spring not to know that Olympic tickets are about to go on sale, with or without a reminder email.
"Let us know your favourite Olympic and Paralympic sports and events so we can email you information about those that interest you." The 2012 team are very keen to find out which sports are going to be popular and which aren't so that they can adjust their pricing strategy accordingly. In total there are 36 Olympic sports and 22 Paralympic sports on their sign-up list. Select carefully. If you prefer you could just tick "Athletics" or "Wheelchair Rugby", or you could go the whole hog and tick all 58. But remember that ticking more sports doesn't change your chances of getting tickets, it simply increases the number of emails you'll be sent.
"Please provide at least one phone number. Enter numbers only. The country code for the United Kingdom is 44." The sign up process requests some unusual data which, at this stage, would appear to be of questionable use. This includes a requirement to give London 2012 your phone number (and they'll start sending you SMS messages unless you tick the "please don't" box at the bottom of the form). Ian has a lot more grumbles about the sign up process.
"In recognition of Visa's support of the Games, the London 2012 Olympic Games and Paralympic Games are proud to accept only Visa cards (debit, credit and prepaid), along with cash and cheques." I know that all Olympic Games have to provide exclusive deals like this. I know that sponsors stump up a considerable proportion of the funding for London 2012. But how could anyone but a PR gimp be "proud" of a restrictive monopoly which makes it damned hard for certain people to buy tickets.
"More tickets will go on sale for the Olympic and Paralympic Games than originally stated – increasing from 9.2m to 10m" 10% more tickets means 10% more spectators, hurrah, but also 10% more ticket revenue. Some of the extra space has been found by moving media and security out of the way, which will give even more people a chance to attend. But other extra tickets have been found by shortening session times, so you won't be seeing as much of the beach volleyball as originally planned.
"75% of tickets will be available directly to the public via a ballot process." The only pledge so far is that 75% of the combined total of Olympic and Paralympic tickets will be balloted. No such assurance appears to have been given specifically to Olympic tickets, which the "Olympic Family" are bound to find preferable to Paralympic tickets. I'd not be surprised to discover that the percentage of publicly-available Olympic tickets turns out to be lower than 75%.
"With 10 million tickets going on sale next year people will have even more of a chance to get the ticket that makes their dream come true." 75% of 10 million equals approximately one ticket for every man, woman and child in London. But the tickets won't be distributed like that, however loudly Londoners shout that they ought to be given due preference. Looked at another way, 7½ million tickets is sufficient for only one in every eight of the entire British population. But the tickets won't be distributed like that either, however loudly taxpayers shout that they deserve better.
"The ballot in 2011 will, under EU law, be available to everyone across the European Union. The sign-up scheme will only be done in the UK." Olympic bosses assure us they're not going to spend money marketing 2012 tickets outside the UK, but legally their ballot has to be open to all EU citizens who discover that it exists. This means that folk in Lithuania will have just as much chance of getting a ticket as someone like me living less than a mile from the stadium. Obviously I'm more likely to want a ticket, living so close, but I'm potentially up against 750 million people for 7½ million tickets. I'm now resigned to not seeing many events in 2012, to be honest. Even a back seat for the handball sounds a lofty ambition at present.
"By registering your details, you are permitting London 2012 to email or write to you with ticketing news, information about the sports at London 2012 and details of other exciting sporting events and offers. Tickets will not go on sale until 2011 and will be via an application process. You will be required to submit an application for tickets when sales are launched in 2011 even if you have registered your details with London 2012 and you have a ticketing account." And that paragraph, in the FAQ smallprint, is why I'm not in any way excited about yesterday's ticketing announcement. Wake me next year when there's actually something worth signing up for.