Shanghai Can’t Sell Out.

Last week, the Phase Four Olympic ticket sales in Beijing produced long lines, short tempers, scuffles, and at least one detained camera crew (some additional photos can be found here). Beijing’s Olympic authorities were muted in their condemnation of the incident, preferring instead to point out that – with the sale of the last 250,000 tickets – Beijing’s Olympic events are totally sold out. Several officials, in less muted tones, are now suggesting that Beijing 2008 might be the first Olympics to sell out its tickets, entirely (Athens 2004 only sold 2/3 of its seats).

With this goal in mind, I wandered down to the Shanghai Stadium box office this morning in hope of getting a sense for how tickets are selling for the 12 Olympic soccer matches to be held there. Like Beijing, the Shanghai tickets went on-sale as part of the Phase Four sale that commenced on July 25. But, unlike Beijing, many are still for sale. Below, a photo of the scene around 11 AM.

No riots, or even lines. In fact, if I had to choose one adjective to describe the scene at the ticket office (four days after sales opened!) it would be … ambivalence. There are two somewhat related explanations.

First, no self-respecting Shanghainese is going to be caught lying on a bamboo mat in the hot sun – not like those ticket-hungry Beijing bumpkins. After all, there are businesses to run, things to do, payrolls to meet. In this most status-conscious of cities, there is simply no status to be gained by an expression of hunger or want. Aloofness, and not enthusiasm, is the mark of the true Shanghainese. Make no mistake.

In a related sense, slow ticket sales highlight the widely held belief – among most Shanghainese – that they could hold a better, more “international” Olympics than the one being put on by those backcountry Beijingers. Per that, the Shanghainese will avoid any act which might be construed as giving face to Beijing, and instead look ahead, to 2010, and the Shanghai Expo, which will definitively prove just which Chinese city deserves to be at the center of the world’s attention. Harrumph.

Second, why would anyone but an Australian or a Serb camp out for tickets to a soccer match between the Australians and the Serbs held in Shanghai? I can’t think of a reason, either. Thus, it’s pretty much guaranteed that the crowds which assemble for Shanghai’s matches will be low-key, primarily represented by curiosity seekers. Perhaps if – in later rounds – the Chinese women break into the quarter and semifinal rounds (forget the men – they’re awful), the nationalist blood of the notoriously ambivalent Shanghai sports fan will be raised. Maybe.

And this brings me to the curious set of soccer matches being held in – of all places – Shenyang, once the very symbol of China’s polluted rust belt. I’ve actually spent a considerable amount of time in Shenyang over the last three years, and I can personally attest to the fact that it is no longer the Chimney of China. That noted, among most Chinese, its reputation remains abysmal, and – in truth – the idea of anyone but the most devoted fan of the North Korean women paying for a ticket (airline or otherwise) to a match in that city is totally absurd. Which, in its own way, might go a long way to explaining why – two weeks ago – the Shenyang Educational Bureau announced that it was distributing 64,000 tickets to students who are expected to pay a mere RMB 5 (US$.73)/ticket for them.

Whether they do or not, is anybody’s guess. But of one thing I’m certain: all of those tickets – sold or otherwise – have already been tallied into the 2008 sell-out press releases being prepared in Beijing.


  1. More fuel for the fire: A native Shanghai friend described Beijing (and in English) as “The World’s Largest Farmer City”.

  2. I know people in Shenzhen who’ve worked in Shanghai and refuse to go back because they found it too rugged. Something about construction workers waving phalli in their window. It’s all like the Jimy Carr joke: people from Manchester think people form Liverpool are a bunch of c***s, and visa versa. When will they learn?

  3. Inst – Technically, no, you can’t. Shanghai is crap requires an extra ‘i.’ In either case, you are far from being the first person to ask about this point. In this history of this blog, the first post on the topic was written July 8, 2007, and may be found here:

    More recently, the superb Italian sports journalist, Francesco Liello, brought up the issue, here:

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