Originally created 05/22/01

Gavel opens on Olympic ticket auction



SALT LAKE CITY -- A pair of Utah celebrities - former rival football coaches Ron McBride and LaVell Edwards - kicked off an Internet auction of Olympic tickets on Monday.

McBride, from the University of Utah, drove the price for two front-row USA-Russia hockey seats to $2,000 - four times the face value.

Edwards, the retired coach at Brigham Young University, didn't bid any higher, but he has nine more days to consider doing so.

Organizers for next February's Winter Games are holding the first ticket auction for a major sporting event.

Salt Lake Organizing Committee president Mitt Romney hoped to promote the auction of "Jack Nicholson" seats with an appearance by the Academy Award winner himself.

But Nicholson - famous for his front-row seat at Los Angeles Lakers' games - was in Omaha, Neb., filming the movie "About Schmidt."

So Romney rekindled an old football rivalry, with Edwards bidding in person at a computer while McBride countered by telephone from Hawaii where he is vacationing.

A series of other e-Bay auctions will follow if the first succeeds in driving up prices.

Organizers hoarded 1,000 of their best seats, hoping to raise as much as $1 million from the auctions.

"I'm sure we'll get the question, 'Isn't this scalping?' Well, you don't scalp yourself," Romney said.

He promised bidders would get "the very best seats in the house," which typically would "go through the old boys' network or (Olympic) sponsors. ... In our case, we decided to do something a little bit more democratic."

Romney still hopes bidding makes those tickets as expensive as possible, and many bids on Monday quickly topped twice face value for seats at figure skating, hockey, alpine skiing, ski jumping and snowboarding competitions.

Regular ticket prices range from $55 to $425, but tickets to the most popular event sold out through normal channels long ago. Now, the sky's the limit.

Visitors to SLOC's Web site will find a link to the e-Bay auction, scheduled to last for 10 days.

Romney said the auction revenue will go to the Paralympic Games, which he called "a money-losing proposition." But he acknowledged all the money for both the disabled games and the regular Olympics is coming from one pot, a $1.3 billion budget.

The potential auction profits represent a tiny fraction of the $60 million Paralympics.

The Feb.8-24 Olympics will be followed by the March 7-16 Paralympics.

On the Net:

Salt Lake Organizing Committee: http://www.saltlake2002.com