Friday, August 14, 2009

120,000 Free Tickets to 2010 World Cup

This is an outstanding idea. A significant chunk of South African citizenry apparently cannot afford to buy World Cup tickets. Yet many of them are avid football fans.

So, organizers will provide 120,000 free tickets to impoverished South Africans, out of the 3.2 million tickets available for the 2010 World Cup, according to a story in the Johannesburg Sunday Times.

Getting 120,000 poorer South Africans into stadiums during the 2010 World Cup is both fair and clever.

As the Times points out, several Confederations Cup matches in June were poorly attended. The three-week competition was treated as a sort of trial run for the Big Event next summer, and organizers (and viewers) noticed empty seats in stadiums when neither the host team, South Africa, nor one of the world's heavyweight powers (Brazil, Italy, Spain) were not on the pitch.

Almost without doubt, the 2010 World Cup will yield several group-stage matches of marginal (or nearly zero) interest among ticket-buying South Africans ... and also fail to attract sufficient traveling fans of the competing teams to fill a stadium.

It is fair to assume many of the free tickets will be for those matches of lesser-demand. Creating a win-win situation by getting the South Africa underclass into a World Cup match -- at no cost to the consumer -- as well as filling up empty spots in the stadium. Those gaps of unfilled seats that look so bad when a match is televised globally.

Even the United States, which is vastly more wealthy than South Africa, and has tens of thousands of ethnic groups from all over the world already within its borders, had trouble selling out some matches during the attendance-record-setting 1994 World Cup.

To wit: Bulgaria and Nigeria played a group-stage match in Dallas before a Cotton Bowl crowd of 44,132 -- nearly 20,000 short of a sellout.

If U.S. organizers couldn't sell out a stadium, imagine the empty swaths in a South Africa venue next summer when, say, Paraguay and North Korea play. Even as tens of thousands of rabid soccer fans live within a few miles of the stadium -- but can't afford the price of a ticket.

The per capita annual income in South Africa is $10,000 (compared to $46,000 in the U.S. or $36,600 in the United Kingdom), according to The World Factbook.

Expecting South Africans to pay globally competitive ticket prices to see matches from far-away countries isn't realistic, and giving away some of those tickets to impoverished citizens is one of the smartest things organizers can do.

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