Worth Their Weight in Shekels

Olympic rules say all ticket prices must be equal, so why are Israelis paying so much more than others?

About a week ago Ido and his wife decided to go see the Olympic Games live this summer, rather than watch them on television. The couple called Issta Sport, the official and sole provider in Israel of tickets to the games, which open in London on July 27, to find out how much they would have to pay to watch judoka Arik Ze'evi and gymnast Alex Shtilov compete, if they indeed make it to the finals. The Issta sales representatives offered them packages including four events, but when they said they were only interested in seeing two events, they received the following offer: two tickets to the artistic gymnastics finals and two tickets to the men's judo finals for seats in category D (the fourth out of five levels ) for GBP 1,500 (NIS 9,033 ).

Major price differential

The couple thought the price was too high and logged on to the official Olympics Committee website, which shows ticket prices for events. The price on the official site for an identical pair of tickets to the gymnastics finals was GBP 100 (NIS 602 ); tickets for the judo finals cost GBP 90 (NIS 542 ). Issta Sport's price was nearly eight times the official price.

The huge differential is contrary to the Olympic Committee's instructions regarding ticket prices: The price must be identical everywhere in the world, with a standard handling fee of 20 percent or GBP 40, whichever is higher. At the same time, Olympic Committee rules force citizens of a country to buy tickets from the official Olympic representative in their own country. This means a resident of London cannot buy tickets in Israel, nor can a resident of Israel buy tickets in London. Ido and his wife refused to pay Issta's high price and instead found a creative solution. They asked a resident of London to buy the tickets for them. But what about others who do not have that option?

Ido's case is not unique. Issta Sport is offering package prices for Olympic events that are higher by hundreds of percentage points than the prices listed on the Olympic Committee's official site. An investigation by TheMarker found that Israelis who bought a standard package from Issta Sport paid an average of four times more than the cost if the same tickets would have been purchased on the official Olympic site.

We called Issta Sport, and received a list of prices for about 50 separate events, not as part of a package, most of them volleyball and basketball. Those ticket prices were GBP 10 higher than prices listed on the international site.

However, most event tickets, including events in which Israelis will be participating, can only be purchased from Issta as part of packages that combine several events; tickets to these games cannot be purchased separately. Each of the packages is priced differently, ranging from GBP 599 to 3,000, and includes six or seven tickets. The package includes one night's lodging per person in a double room in a hotel in London. It does not include flights. Thus, an Israeli couple must purchase two packages for a double room in order for both partners to get lodging. Alternatively, a customer can add GBP 100 to the package to get a night in a single room.

No top seats at any price

We also tried to select seats in the best (i.e. most expensive ) categories, but in most cases, the only categories offered were D and E, the worst ones.

Our investigation found that tickets to events in a package priced for Israelis at GBP 3,000 are sold for GBP 615 on the Olympic Committee site. A package for which Issta Sport is charging GBP 2,000 can be had for GBP 465 on the official site, while a package that costs GBP 1,500 at Issta can be bought for GBP 480.

It doesn't get better for less expensive packages. Issta is charging GBP 799 for a package that costs GBP 299 on the official site; a GBP 1,199 package at Issta is officially being sold for GBP 440.

Not the first time

This is not the first time Issta Sport is charging more for an Olympic package. In January we found that someone who bought a package from Issta that included a flight, lodging and tickets to the summer games could reserve the same hotel room and the flight himself, and only purchase the tickets through Issta Sport, for a savings of thousands of shekels. At that time, the company's response was that the high prices customers had to pay were derived from the complexity of the logistics involved and the company's high operating costs.

This week, when TheMarker contacted Issta, it responded, "The packages do not only include tickets to events. Along with seven tickets to various events, lodging at a centrally-located hotel in the city is included, as is entry to a guest room that will be open all day and manned by Issta Sport representatives, who will provide guest services and tourism information to our customers. We are preparing to give customers a unique and comprehensive customer experience."