PtG Article 17.06.2010

Ticket dealers: Up to 50 % of World Cup tickets sold under market value

How much money is being spent in ‘Il Ritrovo Lounge’ each day? Nobody knows - but it is a lot. A striking number of stocky men gather at the bar, talking in rough northern English accents. These men are ticket dealers.

Johannesburg. How much money is being spent in ‘Il Ritrovo Lounge’ each day? Nobody knows - but it is a lot. A striking number of stocky men gather at the bar, talking in rough northern English accents. They monitor the room, some fiddling with three mobile phones simultaneously, calling, texting, emailing. They leave their seats hurriedly, awaiting clients. A sense of tension is palpable. These men are ticket dealers. Things are not running smoothly and the risk is growing.

Enrique Byrom is among these men, he is one of the owners of MATCH, the agency which deals exclusively with World Cup tickets and hospitality packages for the International Football Association FIFA. Byrom scours the market, tries to mediate. He is not universally popular among the men who are desperate to sell tickets. Everything is still on offer, tickets for every world cup match in almost all categories. Who wants to watch Brazil, Germany, Argentina or Spain? No problem, not even at exorbitant prices.

Apart from the worries of the ticket dealers, this is brilliant for fans. When does an ordinary mortal ever have the opportunity to attend a World Cup Final for 800 US dollars – pampering included? It’s a once in lifetime chance. The cheapest final tickets are still on offer for between 800 and 900 dollars. The only question is: Who wants to pay much more than the price for the ticket for a flight to South Africa and hotels?

‘Look, there’s the man who profits’

Some of the busy-bees in the FIFA hotel, Michelangelo Towers, in the nearby shopping mall and on Mandela Square are official agents who have paid a great deal of money to MATCH for the exclusive rights. They had to buy tickets at face value, for the printed price, and a substantial surcharge. Some of them wear shorts but no one should be deluded by their dress code. This is business, not tourism, and as days go by, as hopes are dashed the tone gets cooler. Some have an additional problem: They also have tickets for the 2012 London Olympics on offer. Soon, deposits will be due. “I have to make money in South Africa in order to be able to finance London”, one of them says.

At this moment Joseph Blatter passes the bar, on his way to the FIFA-Club to watch the first half of Italy vs. Paraguay. ‘Look, there’s the man who profits’, one ticket dealer hisses. ‘The Blatter family makes a big haul. And we take the risks.’ They all speak openly about the situation and they don’t mind being quoted, on one condition: No names. They want to remain anonymous. They fear that he who prattles, he who openly criticizes FIFA and MATCH will be out. Nobody wants that in these difficult times.

Enrique Byrom, by the way, always claims that his company has done a great job. “It is all about the economy crises and the quality of the 32 teams at the World Cup”, he says.

One third of the tickets sold under face value

After talks with some of the touts one can sum up and say: They estimate that only 50 to 60 per cent of 3 million tickets in total (including the hospitality-packages) were really sold on market value. They also guess that one third of the tickets were sold far under the face value, partly they were given away to school classes to fill the stadiums.

At least 10 per cent of the tickets are still on the market, say the tough guys on the street. They don’t trust the official numbers given by FIFA. Jerome Valcke, General Secretary, who said several times last week that 97 to 98 per cent of all tickets are sold. 97 per cent? Everybody who is asked for his numbers has to laugh. It is a laugh which changes to bitter cursing.

In January 2010, after realising the disastrous situation, MATCH organised a ticket workshop in Zurich with all its contracted agents, companies and dealers. After seeing the empty business seats in almost every World Cup stadium one can estimate that between January and June very few more of these tickets were sold.

One example: In January, according to MATCH documents, 85 per cent of the ‘skyboxes B’ for the match between the Netherlands and Denmark at Soccer City stadium in Johannesburg were unsold. Did anything happen until last Monday? The disaster was easily to be seen in Soccer City. Just empty business seats, nothing else. According to the German football fanzine, a German soccer fan was able to get a business ticket for not more than 20 Euros for this game!

FIFA: Numbers are good despite empty seats 

According to FIFA this World Cup is the second best of all time in numbers of spectators. Only the World Cup 1994 in the U.S. (in bigger stadiums) had higher numbers. But, as everybody can see: There are a lot of empty seats in almost every game. ‘We are not happy to see that’, says FIFA’s media director Nicolas Maingot, ‘but nevertheless, our numbers are good!’ Maingot claims that FIFA counts only the numbers of spectators who really pass the gates. For estimated 2.5 to 3 million Euros per stadium the LOC has bought state of the art electronic ticket counting machines. Information from all stadia is gathered in FIFA’s and MATCH’s system.

But, who ever entered one of these gates can hardly believe that the South Africans take these numbers seriously. The ticket retailers in the ‘Ritrovo Lounge’ certainly do not.

Jens Weinreich is reporting from Johannesburg, where he is following the FIFA World Cup.