Stocks are plummeting, layoffs abound and a recession is on the way, but the desire to fork out big bucks to attend the 2010 Winter Olympics is as good as gold.
Olympic organizers reported yesterday that Canadians placed orders worth an astonishing $345-million during the five weeks tickets were on sale.
That was far more than anticipated and 4½ times the $75-million chalked up during a nine-week buying period for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.
The value of tickets ordered last Friday, the final day for sales, amounted to $135-million alone.
"There's been a stunning reaction by Canadians," John Furlong, president of the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympics (VANOC), told a Vancouver Board of Trade luncheon yesterday.
"It's beyond anything ever seen in an Olympics before. We had no idea when we started how people would react, but last week was just about the most stunning week you can imagine."
Demand was so strong that orders outstripped the number of seats available at 120 of the 170 events comprising the 17-day Winter Olympics. Tickets for these oversold events will now be allocated by lottery.
Leading the list, despite sky-high ticket prices ranging from $775 down to $350, was the prized men's hockey final. More than 140,000 requests were made for the estimated 4,000 tickets expected to be available to the public for the centrepiece event of the Games.
More than 41,000 tickets were requested for the women's gold-medal hockey match. Other events which attracted huge orders included the Games' lavish opening ceremonies, short-track speed skating, half-pipe snowboarding, the curling finals and figure skating.
At the same time, Mr. Furlong called on local businesses to buy into the Olympics by lending top staff to VANOC in the months leading up to the Games. Then, during the event itself, businesses can help by cutting working hours, giving employees time off or mandated vacations to serve as volunteers, and perhaps even closing down completely, he said. Businesses could also stagger working hours or allow employees to work at home during the Olympics.
Such measures would both allow workers to fully enjoy the Games and reduce traffic in the city, Mr. Furlong told the luncheon, as he outlined a "Top Ten List for Business" to make a 2010 contribution.
"Consider if it's feasible for your business to close entirely to celebrate the Games. ... Encourage, or even mandate, vacations at Games time," he said.
As well, noting that the Olympics need a talented temporary work force, the VANOC chief asked firms to look for employees who might fill the bill "and lend them to us for six months, four months, two months. You will be doing something important for the Games, and it will make you feel great."
Paraphrasing Barack Obama with a ringing declaration of "Yes, you can!" Mr. Furlong passionately urged business executives to return to their offices "and light a fire under everybody. ... I know you can do it.
"Go back and be part of the most successful achievement in the history of this country."
Asked by reporters, however, whether it might be tough for businesses to make sacrifices for the Olympics during these troubling economic times, Mr. Furlong said: "We're really asking for everyone to do a little. It's a matter of getting businesses to see if they can find a small and easy way to help us. If you can help us, please do. You'll feel good about it."
Mr. Furlong's call to action was endorsed by both the Vancouver Board of Trade and the Business Council of B.C.
"Our business community has an important part to play in creating the right atmosphere, so John's points make good sense," said council president Virginia Greene.
Ticket purchasers, meanwhile, will not learn what tickets they have actually bought until early December, when the lotteries have been completed. "We know people will be disappointed," said VANOC executive vice-president Dave Cobb.
After that, all those who applied for tickets from Oct. 3 to Nov. 7 will have a chance to buy up those that remain unsold on a first-come, first-served basis.
VANOC received orders from more than 1,000 communities across Canada, including 92 in far-off Nova Scotia.
Mr. Cobb said steps were taken during the ordering period to deny a few requests that clearly came from ticket brokers. He said the brokers were identified by their use of cheques and money orders that were numbered successively. "They were pretty clearly brokers," he said, "and their orders will not be filled."