World Cup Tickets Disaster
FIFA has awarded the exclusive rights to package tickets and rooms in South Africa to the MATCH company, set up by Mexican businessmen Jaime and Enrique Byrom. Shareholders include a Japanese company named in a major FIFA bribery scandal and Philippe Blatter, nephew of the FIFA president.
Travel agents have to pay MATCH $30,000 just to be allowed to buy tickets to package with rooms and sometimes flights. Then they have to pay up to 35% surcharge on every ticket MATCH sells them, boosting a ticket with a face value of $160 to as much $244. So MATCH can take up to $84 from each fan.
The company has also established an iron grip on rooms. Hotel chains and B&Bs want business from fans and have signed up with MATCH – and must pay them 30% of their gross charges – so driving up prices again.
Added to the mix of expensive tickets and accommodation is the high cost of flying to South Africa. That deterred fans travelling to Japan and Korea in 2002 but those countries were affluent enough to soak up spare tickets. Most South Africans simply don’t have this kind of disposable income.
Ticket brokers say that although vast amounts are being spent on new and renovated stadiums transport links are poor and fans are recoiling from having to spend hours on expensive buses travelling on poor roads to distant games.
Despite FIFA’s insistence that South Africa’s violent crime rate is not a problem there was shock when Reuters football editor Mike Collett was robbed during the Confederations Cup in June last year – by traffic police. When I was in Johannesburg last November my hosts were insistent that I did not go out at night on my own.
One ticket broker told me of his surprise last month in Cape Town for the Final Draw when staff at his hotel begged him not go out for a healthy stroll. ‘Many fans have heard these stories already and decided to stay home to watch on television,’ he said. ‘And now the attack on the Togo team in Angola is going to make a bad situation worse.’
‘FIFA is going to lose a lot of money on these tickets,’ says an agent, ‘and they may have to give a lot away to fill the stadiums in the first round – and maybe even the group of 16. And it looks like we will have to take a hit. Most agents have already booked hotel rooms they now can’t sell.’
Reports from inside FIFA say that Sepp Blatter isn’t handling the crisis well. He believed that taking the World Cup to South Africa would win him a Nobel Peace Prize. As it turns into a potential train-wreck colleagues say he is drinking too much, his face has turned puffy and gray and he’s suffering violent mood swings. It was during one of these, they say, that he recently fired hapless press chief Hans Klaus.
Now Blatter’s greed – and that of the favoured circle of businessmen he looks after – may yet bring him crashing down. A World Cup disaster would enrage sponsors and damage his plan to be re-elected in 2011.
Another problem that won’t go away is the police investigation into FIFA officials who pocketed big bribes from the ISL marketing company in return for lucrative World Cup marketing contracts.
Reliable Swiss sources say that former president Joao Havelange is reluctant to visit the country because he has been summoned for interrogation about the scandal. Another member of the executive committee is also said to be staying away from Switzerland.