When the Summer Olympic Games come to your city, the chances are it will be a once in a lifetime chance to see the event. The inevitable excess demand creates a logistical quandry — and we’d like to know if you could solve it in a better way than the organizers of next year’s event.
For those who don’t know, the London 2012 tickets are not being distributed to domestic buyers in the way of most major sporting and entertainment events by which they go on sale at a set time on a first-come first-served basis. Officials believed it was likely using such a system would inevitably lead to what could only be dubbed servercide and, given than 1.8 million people made a total of 20 million ticket requests, they were probably correct.
The system they did use has been controversial, however. It involved ticket applications being taken online during a window of several weeks, with applicants required to hand over credit card details. Money is now being debited from accounts in line with the tickets people have been allocated, apparently on a purely random basis. (Spare tickets for events that didn’t have enough applications will be offered again in a second round of sales.)
That’s led to a range of problems. Some are purely administrative (the money is being debited before the notification of which tickets people have been allocated), but others are more fundamental. Applicants were left with no idea what proportion of tickets they applied for would be allocated to them, meaning a choice between picking a few key events and being left with nothing, or applying widely and praying they didn’t get everything they applied for: successful applicants must pay immediately and must wait next year before they have the option to sell any unwanted tickets (at face value only.)
The results have also demonstrated the way random distribution works. With 20 million applications for six million available tickets, the average applicant should get one-third of the total they applied for, which does appear to be the case. But it’s been reported that 250,000 people will get no tickets, while some are already reporting they’ve got everything they applied for (and are facing a lean period in their finances.)
So while the outcome appears to have been exactly as would be expected from such a system, there are plenty of complaints about the perceived fairness or efficiency of the set-up. Here’s where you come in: we’d like to hear your ideas for designing a better system, a choice that of course involves a subjective criteria for what counts as fair and/or efficient.
To get you going, here are a few rival systems we’ve thought up for debate:
- The same application system, but with tickets allocated more proportionally: everyone gets roughly the same “tickets received:tickets applied for” ratio (rounding up for those who’d get less than one ticket!) and the luck is in which events that proportion covers.
- An adjusted version of the same application system, but with each applicant being allowed to pick as many events as they like, while setting a personal maximum total spend limit.
- An adjusted version of the same system, with the application process carried out in several stages (each covering a selection of events) to avoid people having to overcommit.
- A blind auction: for each event, applicants name the price they’ll pay for a ticket. If there are 10,000 seats at an event, those who put in the 10,000 highest bids get seats, with the highest bid getting the best seat available and so on.
- An adjusted blind auction: the relevant number of highest bidders get tickets, but they all pay either the average bid of the winners, or the lowest bid of the winners.
- A true lottery: applicants buy lottery tickets for a small sum, with games ticket winners then picked at random. Tickets could be for specific events or simple pot luck for the entire games. Lottery ticket buyers could buy multiple tickets for multiple seats: for example, if you buy three tickets and one of them wins, you get three seats next to each other at the relevant event. Applicants could be limited to one lottery ticket each, or there could be unlimited sales.