Of course, the Olympics are a TV spectacle above all else, so if the ratings are high most officials will be satisfied. The broadcasters who pay dearly for the rights to show the Games can deftly minimize the glare of empty seats. Still, if a host spends billions of dollars to stage the three-week sporting extravaganza and few people show up it is a bad look.
âThis is not the first time you get these concerns,â said Michael Payne, the former head of marketing for the International Olympic Committee, who noted that the Games tended to turn out just fine. âBut Iâm sure the I.O.C. is telling the Pyeongchang organizing committee, âCome on, guys, you better raise your game here with more active promotion.â â
Though many host cities have struggled to sell tickets, Pyeongchangâs situation is particularly grim. As of Oct. 24, 57 percent of 320,000 tickets for the Pyeongchang Games reserved for international fans had been sold â but nearly 80 percent of the 750,000 tickets allocated to South Koreans were still available.
The numbers for the Paralympics, which will take place in Pyeongchang from March 9 to 18, were even worse. According to the organizing committee, only 8,902 tickets had been sold as of Oct. 24, with the vast majority purchased as part of group packages. Only 499 individual tickets had been sold.
The sales figures were met with gasps, and revived long-simmering questions about whether the organizing committee had been doing enough to promote the Games; whether recent political turmoil inside the country and the escalation of tensions with North Korea might be suppressing excitement about the event; and whether South Koreans even cared enough about winter sports to travel to an unassuming ski town 80 miles east of Seoul.
âFilling the stadiums is the goal and challenge of every organizing committee,â said Park, the spokeswoman. âWe are focused on building up the excitement and continuing to encourage the public to buy their tickets for the Olympic and the Paralympic Winter Games.â
The committee noted that many promotional activities were only now beginning.
On Tuesday in Athens, for example, the Pyeongchang organizers received the Olympic flame in a ceremony that initiated a 100-day countdown to the start of the Games in February. After leaving Greece, the torch was scheduled to travel 2018 kilometers across South Korea, visiting 17 cities and provinces, before the opening ceremony.
âOnce the flame lands in South Korea, I hope the Olympic fever will surge with the torch relay,â said Kim Yu-na, the former figure skater who was a member of the South Korean delegation on Tuesday in Athens, according to Yonhap News Agency.
Organizers will hope that fever translates into ticket sales. On Wednesday, the offline sale period will begin in South Korea, making tickets, which until now were limited to the event website, available at designated offices around the country.
The Pyeongchang Games will be held a few hours from Seoul, the countryâs largest city. Snow sports, like skiing and biathlon, will be held in the mountains in Pyeongchang. Indoor ice sports, like figure skating and hockey, will be in Gangneung.
News reports from South Korea indicated that regional government offices have been allocating more funds to buy blocks of tickets, with plans to distribute them to schools, disadvantaged families and other groups.
âWe always tend to be late buyers for all events,â said Park, pointing to the 2002 World Cup soccer tournament and the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon as examples.
Park also tried to dispel the idea, pushed recently in some news media reports, that the specter of conflict with North Korea and the perception of political disquiet on the peninsula had held down ticket sales.
She said comments of support from the International Olympic Committee and major national committees had hopefully put international fans at ease after reports that certain countries had expressed safety concerns.
And specifically within South Korea, she suggested, people have been largely inured to the threatening rhetoric from their northern neighbors. âFor Koreans, the tensions are nothing new,â she said.
If the Pyeongchang organizers cannot fully overcome their ticket sales challenge over the next couple of months, United States officials might have a solution. The United States Army has a military base in Seoul.
âThatâs 20,000 or 30,000 people,â Scott Blackmun, chief executive of the United States Olympic Committee, said in an interview at The New York Times on Wednesday. âWeâd love to try to get some of them into the seats.â