The easiest thing to win at Rio Games? A ticket

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Major problems for Rio Olympics

Over the past few weeks, one U.S. marketing executive's phone has been ringing hot with offers that many sports fans could only dream of: an all-expenses-paid trip to watch the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro next month.

So far, 10 Olympic sponsor firms have invited him to the Games, a sign of what he and other executives say is an event struggling to draw well-heeled corporate clients worried about Zika virus, Brazil's economic crisis and security risks.

SEE MORE: Check out everything you need to know about Rio 2016

The marketing executive, speaking on condition of anonymity to avoid harming business relationships, said he had turned down Rio due to prior commitments.

But even when invited guests are available to attend, there appear to be fewer takers than normal for Rio, according to interviews and a Reuters analysis of ticketing and travel data.

"I can understand the scare about the Zika virus," said Rob Prazmark, president of 21 Sports & Entertainment Marketing and a leading broker of Olympic corporate partnerships.

"And when you have a souring market, which Brazil has become, the concept of entertaining at a high-profile event can also go sour."

For the host city, corporate entertainment is an important part of its plan to recoup part of its $12 billion (9.15 billion pound) in Games investment. For Olympic sponsors and other big firms, the Games are a major marketing event, a chance to reward customers, suppliers, staff or VIP guests with the trip of a lifetime.

A typical five-day program for two corporate guests is valued at around $30,000, according to another marketing executive who has worked closely with sponsors on the programs. Some companies invite more than 1,000 guests each.

Several top-tier global Games sponsors – including VISA, GE and Coca-Cola -- said their hospitality programs were proceeding as planned for Rio. They declined to say how many guests or employees they would entertain there.

All said health and safety of guests were a top priority.

"We recognise the challenges that have arisen, but we believe the Olympic Games can have a lasting, positive impact on the host community," said Coca-Cola spokeswoman Kate Hartman.

The challenges include Zika, a mosquito-borne virus which can cause a rare birth defect, as well as economic crisis and security fears ranging from street crime to militant attacks.

On Thursday, Brazil arrested 10 people on suspicion of belonging to a group backing Islamic State and preparing attacks during the Games. Some 85,000 security personnel will be deployed in Rio, more than twice the number at the 2012 London Games.

All these concerns mean sponsors will take fewer guests to Rio and may spend less on entertaining than at past Summer Games like London, or Beijing in 2008, Prazmark said.

Brazilian tourism officials project that Rio will receive as many as 500,000 Games-oriented tourists over the Olympics.


Great moments from the Summer Olympics
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Great moments from the Summer Olympics
Mary Lou Retton at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, Calif., Aug. 1, 1984. (AP Photo)
Mildred Didrikson of Dallas, Texas at the Olympic Stadium Los Angeles July 31, 1932 when she sent the javelin soaring 143 feet 4 inches to better by more than 11 feet the former mark held by E. Braumiller of Germany. (AP Photo)
Babe Didrikson, second from right, leads her USA teammate, Evelyne Hall, right, over the last hurdle to win the women's 80-meter hurdles at the 1932 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, August 4, 1932. Didrikson's time of 11.7 seconds set a world and Olympic record. (AP Photo)
Alice Coachman of Tuskegee about to snap the tape to win the 100 meter run in the Woman's National AAU Track and Field championships, Aug. 5, 1946. Coming up a close second, left, is Stella Walsh, running for the Polish-Olympic WAC, Cleveland. (AP Photo)
High jumper Dick Fosbury of the United States is shown in October 1968, debuting his celebrated "Fosbury Flop," during the Summer Olympics in Mexico City. "The Flop" revolutionized high jumping, and Fosbury went on to win the gold medal with a leap of 7 feet and 4 and 1/4 inches. (AP Photo)
Bob Beamon astonished the world in October1968 when he leaped 29 feet 2-1/2 in., about two feet more than the existing long jump record, to capture a gold medal in the Olympic Games in Mexico City.(AP PHOTO)
Bob Beamon of El Paso, Texas digs his feet into the sand pit after a record-shattering long jump of 8.90 meters on his first attempt in the Summer Olympic Games in Mexico City, Friday Oct. 18, 1968. (AP PHOTO)
Bob Beamon is shown in his record-breaking long jump that won him a gold medal on October 18, 1968 during the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. (AP Photo)
Heavyweight boxer George Foreman is seen during his bout with Russia's Iones Chepulis during their Olympic finals in Mexico City, Oct. 27, 1968. Foreman captured the gold medal. (AP Photo)
American heavyweight boxer George Foreman of Pleasanton, California, waves an American flag after winning the Olympic gold medal at the Mexico City games on Oct. 27, 1968. Foreman won by a technical knockout in the second round against Iones Chepulis of Russia. (AP Photo/Kurt Strumpf)
Winners of the heavyweight division of Olympic boxing, (from left to right) silver medalist Ionas Chepulis of Russia, American gold medalist George Foreman, and joint bronze medalists, Giorgio Bambini of Italy and Joaquin Rocha of Mexico are seen in the ring after medal presentations, October 27, 1968 at the Olympic Games in Mexico City. (AP Photo)
Ulrike Meyfarth, 16, of West Germany goes over the bar at 1.92 meters to win the world record and win a gold medal in the 1972 Olympic Games women's high jump event at the Munich Olympic Stadium, Sept. 4, 1972. (AP Photo)
Smiling happily is Ulrike Meyfarth, 16, of West Germany after winning the gold medal in the high jump for women in the 1972 Munich Olympics. She jumped 1.92 metres, setting a new Olympic record. (AP Photo)
Nadia Comaneci from Romania performs an excellent balanced jump on the horse vault during compulsory events and optional exercises, July 18,1976 in Montreal at the Summer Olympic Games. (AP Photo)
Romania's top gymnast Nadia Comaneci performs on the balance beam on July 18, 1976 during the Summer Olympic Games in Montreal, Canada. (AP Photo)
Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci, 14, performs a flip on the balance beam en route to a gold medal in the event during the Olympic Games in Montreal, Quebec, Canada on July 22, 1976. (AP Photo/Stephanie Maze)
Romania's Nadia Comaneci, 14, performs her part of the balance beam routine Thursday July 23, 1976 in Olympic competition in Montreal. This multiple exposure study points out the grace of her movements, leading to a gold medal and a perfect score in the event. (AP Photo/Suzanne Vlamis)
Sugar Ray Leonard in action against Ulrich Beyer July 27,1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal. Leonard later won the Gold Medal in the light Welterweight class (140 lbs). (AP Photo)
American boxer Sugar Ray Leonard raises his arms in victory after defeating Ulrich Beyer of East Germany to qualify for the final bout, at the XXI Summer Olympics in Montreal, Canada, on July 27, 1976. (AP Photo)
Sugar Ray Leonard of Palmer Park, Md., right, throws a right at Kazmier Szczerba of Poland during the light welterweight boxing match at the XXI Summer Olympic Games in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, on July 29, 1976. Leonard won the match. (AP Photo)
Soviet world champion gymnast Aleksandr Dityatin swings up during his performance on the horizontal bars that earned him a 9.95 score during men's team gymnastics event Thursday, July 24, 1980 at the Moscow Olympics. The Soviet, 22, became the first man ever to score a perfect ten for the vault and won the gold medal in the all-around category of the event. (AP Photo)
Alexander Dityatin of USSR performs on the rings during the apparatus final of the Olympics, July 25, 1980 in Moscow. He took the gold medal with a score of 19.875. (AP Photo/Maze)
Joan Benoit shown running at the Olympic women's marathon in Los Angeles. She won the gold medal. (AP Photo/Ron Heflin)
Freeport, Maine's Joan Benoit, carries an American flag after finishing the first-ever women's marathon in the 1984 Summer Games August 5, 1984 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The 27-year-old Benoit finished the 26-mile, 385-yard distance in 2.24:52. (AP Photo/Sadayuki Mikami)
U.S. runner Joan Benoit of Freeport, Maine, waves the American flag on Aug 5, 1984 after her gold medal win in the women's marathon that concluded in Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. (AP Photo/Lennox McLendon)
U.S. runner Joan Benoit of Freeport, Maine, waves the American flag on Aug 5, 1984 after her gold medal win in the women's marathon that concluded in Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. (AP Photo/Lennox McLendon)
Romania's Ecaterina Szabo, who is a favorite for a gold medal at the Summer Olympics, is pictured at Stadtallendorf on July 5, 1984, during her team's gymnastic contest vs. West Germany. (AP Photo/Kurt Strumpf)
Romania's Ecaterina Szabo, is shown July 30, 1984 during balance beam where she finished second to teamate Simona Pakea at the 1984 summer Olympics in Los Angeles. (AP Photo)
Mary Lou Retton of team USA is shown during her perfect performance in the floor exercise in the Olympic individual all-around finals in Los Angeles, Calif., on Aug. 3, 1984 during the Summer Olympics. Retton edged out Ecaterina Szabo of Romania for the gold medal. (AP Photo/Lionel Cironneau)
Mary Lou Retton of Fairmount, Va. leaps in the air after scoring a perfect 10 on the vault in her final routine to win the women's all-around gymnastics gold medal at the Olympics in Los Angeles, Calif., Friday, Aug. 4, 1984. (AP Photo)
Mary Lou Retton, foreground, with her gold medal and Ecaterina Szabo with her silver medal at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, Calif., Aug. 5, 1984. (AP Photo)
Mary Lou Retton celebrates her balance beam score at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles on Aug. 3, 1984. Retton, 16, became the first American woman ever to win an individual Olympic gold medal in gymnastics. (AP Photo/Lionel Cironneau)
American gymnast Mary Lou Retton on the uneven bars at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, Calif., Aug. 5, 1984. (AP Photo)
American gymnast Mary Lou Retton celebrates after a victory at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, Calif., Aug.12, 1984. (AP Poto)
Mary Lou Retton of the USA beams after winning the gold medal in Olympics individual all-around gymnastics competition Aug. 3, 1984. (AP Photo)
American gymnast Mary Lou Retton celebrates after a victory at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, Calif., Aug.12, 1984. (AP Poto)
Mary Lou Retton, of the U.S.A., performs on the balance beam during the women's gymnastics individual all-around finals at the XXIII Summer Olympic Games in Los Angeles, Calif., on Aug. 3, 1984. (AP Photo/Suzanne Vlamis)
American gymnast Mary Lou Retton during her balance beam routine at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, Calif., Aug. 3, 1984. (AP Photo)
USA's Michael Jordan sails high above teammate Magic Johnson knocking away a shot during the first half of their preliminary round basketball game with Croatia at the Summer Olympics in Barcelona Monday, July 27, 1992. (AP Photo/Susan Ragan)
The USA's Magic Johnson drives the court against Croatia's Drazen Petrovic during the First half of their preliminary round basketball game at the XXV Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Monday, July 27, 1992. (AP Photo/Ed Reinke)

"There's a perception, widely broadcast, about huge numbers of tourists going to the Olympics, and it's almost always wrong," said Tom Jenkins, CEO of European tourism association ETOA in London.

The Games draw mostly domestic audiences, corporate delegations and die-hard international sports fans, Jenkins said. Zika worries have led some athletes to withdraw from Rio and may also crimp attendance by VIP and luxury travelers.

"The jet set goes where they feel everybody is going to be," he said.


Rio can still pull off a dazzling Games, but organizers are scrambling to sell some 1.7 million tickets, or 28 percent of the scaled-back total made available for sale.

That is a bigger overhang than the 20 percent of tickets that were unsold a month before the London Games.

On Thursday, Rio's O Globo newspaper reported that fans holding at least 50,000 Games tickets had sought to return them for a refund after June 17, the day Rio de Janeiro declared a "state of public calamity" due to severe cash shortfalls.

Reuters could not immediately verify the report.

To boost revenues and fill stadiums, Rio organizers took the unusual step last month of allowing foreigners to buy tickets once reserved for Brazilians. Previously, foreigners could only buy tickets from authorized resellers in their home countries, often at sizeable mark-ups and unfavorable exchange rates.

"Our goal is to sell out all the tickets for the Games," Rio Organizing Committee Ticketing Director Donovan Ferretti told Reuters, adding that more than 1 million events tickets had been sold to spectators outside of Brazil.

Still, seats at many events remain unsold, with prices ranging from less than 40 reais ($12) to 3,000 reais ($923) for a prime seat at the closing ceremony. On Thursday, organizers made another 100,000 tickets available on

Perhaps surprisingly for a soccer-crazed host country, around 800,000 of the unsold Games tickets are for soccer matches. Many will be played in cities far from Rio de Janeiro, in now under-utilized stadiums that Brazil built at high expense for the last mega-event it hosted, the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

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