The Olympic Games ticketing system has been much in the news in recent days, in the wake of Tokyo 2020’s decision not to permit international spectators to attend the Games.
The immediate focus, naturally enough, has been on the whys and wherefores of getting a refund.
But to my mind, the whole business of Olympic ticketing is somewhat opaque and not especially well understood.
So it seems a good time to attempt to shed a little light on a segment of the Olympic economy that is, after all, an important source of funding for successive Games Organising Committees.
While no-one has yet bettered London 2012’s total of $988 million (£719 million/€843 million) of ticketing revenue, and Pyeongchang 2018 managed only $143 million (£104 million/€122 million), I would be surprised if the $1 billion barrier is not breached in the current decade.
We have come a long way since 1976, when Montreal was pleased to generate gross revenue from "admission tickets" of CAD27.6 million (£15.9 million/$21.9 million/€18.7 million) and sports marketing pioneer Patrick Nally kept a stash of tickets in the fridge of a well-appointed townhouse he had rented as an informal base for clients and other contacts.
Actually, from the Organising Committee’s viewpoint, arranging an efficient Olympic ticketing operation has long been a complex and demanding business.
Peter Ueberroth, President of the Los Angeles 1984 Olympic Organising Committee, wrote in his account of those Games, Made in America, that "next to security, tickets had always been my greatest concern".
His team eventually created "the largest computerized ticket-distribution system ever conceived," Ueberroth said.
From a consumer’s viewpoint, however, I have to say one of my strongest impressions is how fragmented the Olympic ticketing process remains to this day.
The Tokyo 2020 website lists, by my count, more than 50 Authorised Ticket Resellers (ATRs), or brokers, who have ticket-selling rights in particular territories.
Some of these seem remarkably confined: one company has the rights, so far as I can see, only for the Marshall Islands; another only for Malawi.
On this evidence, you might say, Olympic ticketing is the business that globalisation forgot - though there is, admittedly, some evidence of consolidation, with one ATR listed for some 35 territories in four separate continents and another for about 30.
There appear to be at least a couple of reasons for this fragmentation.
For one thing, ticketing has traditionally been the preserve of National Olympic Committees (NOCs).
Former International Olympic Committee (IOC) marketing director Michael Payne says it was something that "each NOC jealously guarded because they were making money - and, prior to sponsorship, it was one of the few ways they could make money".
Comments made by one leading NOC suggest, moreover, that knowledge of the local market is an asset: "For us a lot depends on how proactive [the ATR] is in the market, as we are so reliant on the marketing strategy that supports the ticketing and travel proposition," this NOC said.
Yet involvement of so many middlemen, rather than taking orders direct from Olympic fans around the world, as must surely be feasible in this day and age, seems to me to create an extra layer of complexity for Organising Committees.
The 49-page (!) standard ticket-sales agreement for Tokyo 2020 included a series of regulations designed seemingly to second-guess and hence optimise the balance between supply and demand in the various national markets.
ATRs were asked to complete a "pre-allocation ATR business plan", as well as periodic reviews and quarterly sales reports.
They had to place a "preliminary order for tickets" and received a "proposed initial allocation".
A certain amount of haggling was then permitted over a stipulated time period before a final allocation was confirmed.
ATRs had the right, prior to a certain date, to return "up to 15 per cent" of tickets allocated.
It is not a corner of the Olympic business I have sought prior to this week to pry into, but, in an age in which many of our grannies and godfathers have taken effortlessly to ecommerce, this does all rather have the whiff of the museum about it.
So, most definitely, does paragraph 10.1 of the agreement, which evidently dates from before the enforced postponement of the Games, where ATRs are informed that they "shall collect the Tickets at Tokyo 2020 ‘s offices or from other locations indicated by Tokyo 2020, on a mutually agreed date between 30 April 2020 and 30 June 2020 (inclusive) or such other date as, for operational reasons, Tokyo 2020 may specify".
Furthermore, "the NOC and the Authorised Ticket Reseller acknowledge that Tokyo 2020 shall not be responsible for Tickets that are lost or destroyed after collection by Authorised Ticket Reseller".
As Payne explains, the IOC has stepped in and exercised a guidance or oversight role on a number of occasions since the turn of the century, but ticketing "is still very much the Organising Committees’ responsibility".
The Tokyo 2020 ticket-sales agreement includes space for the signatures of both IOC director general Christophe De Kepper and his colleague, the director of legal affairs; but this is marked "for approval purposes only".
As singer Sam Cooke once predicted, "a change is gonna come".
One expert told me they had assumed that, if overseas spectators had not been banned, their Tokyo 2020 tickets would have had to be etickets, rather than paper-based, because of the pandemic.
Regardless, digital delivery looks set quickly to become the norm at future Games.
Chris Tung, chief marketing officer of IOC worldwide sponsor Alibaba, told me last year: "We have been named as the official ticketing platform and service provider.
"So from Beijing all the spectators will be able to buy tickets digitally and redistribute their ticket digitally.
"The whole ticketing service will be operated in a much more efficient and much more cost-efficient and probably a more profitable way."
Alibaba’s intervention should obviate any need for future Games organisers to create their own software to handle the ticketing operation.
What it means for ATRs is not entirely clear.
According to Tung, "if there is still a necessary offline distributor that we need to work with, they will be able to work with the system directly".