03 rio stadiums
Rio Olympics 2016: Why all the empty seats?
01:30 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

Olympic organizers plan to donate thousands of unsold tickets to schools

Organizers say 88% of the more than 6 million total tickets have been sold

CNN  — 

With less than one week of competition left in the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, empty stadium seats seem to be stealing the spotlight away from some of the world’s most decorated athletes.

So far 88% of the more than 6 million total tickets have been sold in Rio de Janeiro, Olympic organizers said Wednesday. That’s less than the London Games in 2012 and the Beijing Games in 2008, which both sold 96% of their tickets. But it’s much better than the 2004 Games in Athens, where just 67% of the event tickets were purchased.

Attendance has been strong for marquee events such as gymnastics and sports in which Brazil has been expected to excel, such as soccer and beach volleyball. Still, large swaths of empty seats can be seen at many venues, most notably at the track and field stadium.

And some 400,000 tickets are still up for grabs, Olympic organizers said Wednesday.

Mario Andrada, director of communications for Rio 2016, acknowledges that organizers are worried about the spotty attendance at Havelange Olympic Stadium, home of the track and field events.

“We understand that it is a big stadium and we understand that more seats should be filled …” he said, but he praised the energy of the fans who have shown up to cheer sprinter Usain Bolt and other athletes.

“We see the atmosphere is amazing in the Olympic stadium,” Andrada said.

No shows and other reasons

Organizers have offered some explanations for the empty seats.

Among them: Long sessions mean that some fans arrive late, leave early or wander during events, making venues look less full. Other people buy tickets and then don’t show up. In some venues with doubleheaders, people leave their seats to get food.

The lion’s share of Rio tickets were purchased by Brazilians, while 25% of them were bought by foreign visitors. Still, on the whole the Games have not been that popular with Brazilians. The country of nearly 204 million people has been struggling with political unrest amidst the backdrop of its worst recession in 25 years.

Organizers admitted the recession and political chaos affected ticket sales at home, but they had hoped for a last-minute buying spree.

Many international tourists may have been deterred by concerns over the Zika virus and Rio’s notorious crime problems.

A push to fill seats

To fill seats, Rio 2016 officials have been forced to discount tickets for many remaining events.

“This is your opportunity to see the greatest sporting event in the world up close,” reads the main page of the official Rio 2016 ticket website.

Rio organizers also plan to help fill venues by donating some unsold tickets. Thousands of tickets will be gifted to students from Rio de Janeiro schools, Andrada said.

Many of the students from these schools participated in the opening ceremonies and will also take part in the closing ceremonies, local organizers said.

Organizers hope the free tickets will help educate fans and create future interest in sports, Andrada said.

CNN’s Shasta Darlington and Marilia Brocchetto in Rio de Janeiro contributed to this report.