London 2012 Tickets - What I would have done.


Over half of applicants for London 2012 got no tickets. We applied for lots of events as a couple, and some events with single tickets. My wife got a single, and so we're not even having first refusal on the second round, it looks like I won't get to go to the Olympics. The whole process has left me rather disillusioned - especially when we hear of people winning £11000 of tickets from £30000 (and we got £20 from £1000)

The problem seems to stem from a large number of people applying for the cheaper tickets, thus dramatically reducing the availability.

What they did was have a lottery to allocate tickets for each event and each price band, i.e. they had a lottery for the first velodrome session, lowest price band - then for the mid price band and so on. This meant that people limited to lower budgets stood much less chance of getting a ticket than those on higher budgets. People who could say 'I prefer the 20 tickets, but heck, I'll pay £2000' were in good stead.

One solution might be to cap the number of tickets applied for, but this could easily be problematic - what if someone was willing to take time off specially?

What would I do?

I would have first tallied up the requests, scoring each session and priceband according to the number of applications for that session. So, a session with 20000 people applying for 1000 tickets would have a score of '20'.

Then I would have picked an application at random, examined it, and allocated that applicant the LEAST contested ticket(s) they'd requested (e.g. with one request on a score of '20' and another on '10' then latter session would be awarded to that applicant. Of course, if applying for four tickets for that session, and there were four left, then they'd get all four - having allocated tickets, the score for that session would be tweaked to reflect the change in availability, being careful to avoid a 'divide by zero' error when all tickets are allocated.)

If all tickets for an application were awarded then that application would then be put to one side.

This process would be repeated. Eventually, there would be no more applicants.

What would be the result? The number of tickets awarded would be similar, but the distribution would be different. Everyone would, on average, have the same number of ticket request fulfilled - more people would have got something. Someone who applied for tonnes of tickets would have roughly the same number as someone who applied for a handful. Unless working through in an orderly way, some people would still get unlucky, some would get more than average, but the distribution would be a lot flatter - and more equitable.

Someone who applied for fewer tickets would be much more likely to have their request fulfilled as they'd stand the same chance of having their application examined, and then be more likely to get the tickets they wanted. Thus, keen velodrome enthusiasts, for instance, would tend not to be locked out by people who apply for everything.

I might introduce other refinements, for example, one event could be nominated as 'preference', so that if your application is drawn from the pot, and there are tickets available for that event, then you get them (regardless of the demand criteria).

Of course, all of this would be automated. Would this have been a preferable system? Is there any subtlety I've missed which would make this system unworkable or give undesirable outcomes?