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Low Attendance at Athens Games Spurs Efforts to Boost Ticket Sales - 2004-08-17

So far the Athens venue for the 2004 Summer games appears to be a spectacular accomplishment for the Greeks. Transportation is fairly efficient, the Olympic grounds are an architectural achievement and, although security is tight, getting through the gates is easy. That's because the crowds are not exactly of Olympic proportions.

It's an especially beautiful day in Athens, 26 degrees Celsius with partly cloudy skies giving some relief from the sun's heat. In other words, a perfect day for strolling around the Olympic grounds.

"This is awesome, they've done a great job. There just should be more people," said one visitor.

That's exactly what many Olympic watchers are saying. Ticket sales are not nearly what they were four years ago in Sydney, which sold more than 90 percent of the available 5.5 million tickets. So far, Athens Olympic Organizers say they've sold 56 percent of the available tickets, which translates into a lot of empty seats for even popular events like football, basketball and tennis.

But for people like Daniel Nielsen of Sweden, that means last minute tickets are available for some of his favorite sports. "Table tennis, tennis, track and field and of course swimming and basketball. A few tickets, I bought them here. It was no problem," he said.

Getting from one event to the next is not a problem either, according to this family from Boston, who excitedly described what they've seen so far.

"We've seen the Montegnegro, Serbia-Montenegro versus Argentina, basketball game, won in the last second by Ginobly. Saw the tennis three sets overtime, Carlos Moya and Tomas Enquist. We saw volleyball, beach volleyball and we also saw synchronized diving," they said.

The Athens Organizing Committee is hoping such excitement will catch on with the local population as the games progress. One man from the Greek Island of Crete says he is excited about the games, and plans to return to Athens later this month for polo.

"It's beautiful, but I would expect to see more people," he said. "I don't know why. Maybe it's too expensive," he said. "People from Greece will come, but only when they have tickets.

Hoping to generate more excitement at home for the games, the Athens Olympic Committee launched a new television campaign Sunday. Earlier, a spokesman for the Athens organizers downplayed the slow ticket sales noting that the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona sold just over three million seats. And, as of Monday, Athens had also reached the three million mark.