FIFA cannot afford another ticketing mess in 2014
One of the strangest experiences I ever had in a football stadium was at the Club World championship in Brazil in 2000.
A packed house had turned up at the Maracana for a double bill featuring local side Vasco da Gama against Manchester United, followed by Australia’s South Melbourne, representing Oceania, and Necaxa, the Mexican team representing CONCACAF.
The first match saw Vasco beat Manchester United 3-1 in the sort of fervent atmosphere you would expect to find in a Brazilian stadium. The second was played in near silence in front of less than 1,000 fans.
In the 30 minutes between the two games, the entire arena had cleared and more than 100,000 people had left, preferring to head home even though they had paid to see the second game.
The incident illustrates why FIFA cannot afford another ticketing mess.
Soccer’s governing body was faced with the prospect of empty seats at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa after selling most tickets over the internet — showing a basic misunderstanding of the country’s black fans who make up the bulk of the nation’s football supporters.
Fortunately, South African fans are desperate to watch matches and, as soon as over-the-counter sales began, a mad scramble ensued, allowing FIFA to proclaim this week that there will be no empty seats.
In 2014, however, FIFA may not be dealing with a situation where demand outstrips supply.
Brazilian fans have a reputation for being passionate about football — one of the reasons why a World Cup in the country is such an exciting prospect — but this supposed fanaticism has its limits.
A game will only be packed if a number of conditions are met, including: (1) a local team must be playing: (2) the local team must be on form; (3) the match must have some significance to the outcome of the championship; (4) it is not raining.
Brazil’s success, with a record five World Cup wins, means their fans feel they are entitled to turn their noses up at other countries.
This means that no Brazilian in his right mind will pay hard-earned Reais to watch, for example, Honduras play Slovenia in Fortaleza — in fact he may well consider the suggestion an affront to his dignity.
But local fans are going to be important.
Brazil suffers from the same problems which have deterred foreign fans from going to South Africa: it is difficult to get to, over-dependent on air transport for long distance travel and has serious crime problems.
Anybody who has tried booking a hotel during Carnival or the New Year will also be painfully aware that price-gouging is all too common an occurrence.
FIFA must not only get its ticketing strategy right in 2014, it is going to have to be innovative and imaginative to lure the locals to games they would not usually dream of watching.
PHOTO: A man entertains himself with a soccer ball while he and others line up to purchase tickets as the final round of sales begins for the 2010 Fifa Soccer World Cup in Durban, April 15, 2010. REUTERS/Rogan Ward