Ticket sales for the 2012 London Summer Olympics started early last week, but you couldn’t say it was smooth sailing in the first days....

Ticket sales for the 2012 London Summer Olympics started early last week, but you couldn’t say it was smooth sailing in the first days.

Within hours of the March 15 launch of LOCOG’s (the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games) official Olympics tickets Web site, fans reported problems with the process. Those whose VISA credit cards expire before August of this year found that they were prevented from buying tickets at the site.

VISA soon put out a statement announcing that the issue with cards expiring from May 2011 onward should be resolved by today, March 21, with affected cardholders urged to wait to make another attempt at purchase. Those cards with April 2011 expiration dates will still be locked out permanently, but the company assures those cardholders that new cards will be in their hands prior to the April 26 ticket purchase deadline.

VISA is an official Olympic sponsor, and, as in so many Olympics before, is the only card which can be used at the games. Those fans blocked from using their credit cards by the current glitch are free to set up a VISA prepaid card to purchase their tickets, but that entails a separate application process. The only other solution left to online buyers with problem expiration dates is to sit and wait.

This problem occurred because fans aren’t actually paying for their tickets now, but instead registering their interest in tickets for an event, and in a sense “holding” their place in line with a credit card. Following the April 26 deadline, LOCOG will begin the process of ticket distribution. For sessions with more applicants than seats, distribution of tickets will be determined by ballot. Payments won’t be taken from applicants’ VISA cards until June.

In a statement last week, LOCOG denied that these ticket purchasing problems arose from any technological snafus, but instead suggested that prospective ticket buyers failed to read closely the instructions for the application process. Quoted in a recent Associated Press story, the committee stated: “There is no glitch with the website. The expiry date is made clear in all of our materials — if your VISA card expires before August 2011, you will not be able to process your application.”

Another, less disruptive but equally embarrassing, problem, occurred within hours of the ticket site’s launch. LOCOG’s Omega-designed Olympic Countdown Clock in London’s Trafalgar Square, unveiled on the evening of March 14, failed and stalled the next day. Built to track the number of days until the July 27, 2012, Opening Ceremonies, the clock was stopped at 500 days, 7 hours, 6 minutes and 56 seconds for several hours on March 15. By that evening, workers had fixed and restarted the clock, with no further problems noted. Omega, an official Olympic sponsor, planned to fly in their chief engineer from Switzerland to further review the incident.

Much has been made of the hike in Olympics ticket prices this year, with some of the most expensive tickets and packages in history on sale for these Games. Prices for the Opening Ceremonies top off at £2,012 ($3,243), and Closing Ceremonies at around £1,495, or $2,410.

Over its years of planning, LOCOG has consistently reported that it is doing all it can to make events affordable for those unable to pay for high-end seating. In fact, there will be more 2.5 million event seats that will go for the rock bottom £20 ($32) seat price, and over 200 sessions will offer a £16 ($26) special entrance fee for those 60 and older and a “pay your age” incentive for children ages 1-16.

But, seating for showcase events such as the 100 meter finals, where Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt is expected to defend his gold medal from 2008, start at £50 ($80.50) and go up to £725 ($1,168.50). Corporate packages are also quite pricey, with a swimming final session, on sale to the public in a range of £50-£450 ($731), going for £5,400 ($8,768) including dinner and an open bar in Olympic Park. Despite these prices, corporate interest in such packages reportedly has been high.

Graham Burns, chairman of the Association of Secondary Ticket Agents in Great Britain, takes exception to LOCOG’s claims of setting affordable ticket prices for the Games.

“The cost of the tickets – the pleadings of ‘affordability’ are a smoke screen,” Burns told TicketNews. “Of course there are ‘affordable’ tickets out there – but let us look at the events they are for. Women’s Synchronised Swimming, Men’s [field] hockey – America versus an eastern European country – and Women’s Volleyball, all wrapped around a hotel room in a hotel miles away for a very reasonable £1,800. We asked a well-known broker what he thought and he said that he could put this package together for less than £800, including a far superior hotel. Who is fooling who here?”

And, LOCOG continues to do its best to block ticket sales from all but authorized sellers, effectively shutting out the secondary market in Great Britain. Under Section 31 of the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act 2006, those who resell Olympic tickets without the consent of the Organising Committee are subject to prosecution.

LOCOG has agreements with specific companies to sell 2012 Olympic tickets, and anyone not on this list, even those operating outside of the UK, is considered to be selling tickets illegally. Auction site eBay announced as recently as last week that it is working with the Organising Committee to prevent such sales on its site.

Since June of 2010, LOCOG has been working with a specialized unit of London’s Metropolitan Police to root out and stop unauthorized Olympics ticket sellers, with numerous arrests made to date on fraud and money laundering charges.

Burns also has strong words for LOCOG regarding these efforts to block secondary sellers. “The public are being ripped off, and frankly the Olympics Organisers should be ashamed of themselves. The UK government has turned into the biggest scalper of all time, and they are busy manipulating the law in order to maintain their position. It is quite simply shameful!”