Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Olympics Tickets

One year until the 2012 Olympics seems like a good time to comment on the ticketing system.

The plan was simple: everyone bids for the tickets they want.  If any sessions are oversubscribed, tickets in each price category are allocated by random ballot.  If any tickets are left over again, they may be purchased by any bidders who got nothing in the first round.  Simple, and fair.  But flawed.

Flaw one: the vast majority of people bid for the cheapest tickets, meaning that these tickets were enormously oversubscribed and many people ended up with no tickets at all.

Flaw two: as anyone who has played dice-based games will know, theoretical fairness and equality rarely occurs in practice.  Therefore some people were lucky enough to get all the tickets they applied for, while others got none.

Flaw three: the second round of ticket was not a random ballot, but first come first served.  This meant that it was possible for people who missed out in the first round to eventually acquire far more tickets than those who won a few in the first round.

A far fairer system is not difficult to devise.  Here is such a system.  Everyone bids for desired tickets as originally planned.  For any oversubscribed sessions, beginning with the most oversubscribed, a random ballot is used.  Then the next most popular session is balloted, but people who already won tickets in the most popular session are excluded.  The process continues until all bidders have tickets.  Then all bidders are again included as the process continues, until all sessions have been balloted.  Finally, if any sessions still have spare tickets, a second round of bidding occurs in exactly the same way as the first.
In this system, all bidders will receive at least some tickets, and bidding for more tickets leads to proportionally more tickets gained.

That took me all of about 30 seconds to come up with, but an Olympic Committee of goodness knows how many people couldn’t.

The ticketing fiasco is the most disappointing thing about the Olympics so far, including the appalling logo.

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