Thursday, February 25, 2010

It's Official: More Tickets for South Africans

This has been an odd story. A week ago Fifa conceded that demand for tickets to the 2010 World Cup was soft. Something like 800,000 tickets were unsold, from a total of 2.9 million, and on the order of 350,000 fewer tourists would be in South Africa.

But then Fifa insisted that ticket prices would not be slashed.

When, of course, they will be.

Finally, it's official. Yes, those $20 tickets are going from 11 percent of the total to 29 percent, which pretty much accounts for the 27 percent of tickets that were unsold, as of a week ago.

Anyway, in a philanthropic sense, this is good because the masses of South Africa's lower classes, many of whom are rabid soccer fans, now have a shot at seeing a World Cup match for probably the only times in their lives. They were priced out of the event, until this.

In a bigger sense, we're back to where we were a week ago. Those 800,000 unsold tickets (down to maybe 650,000 now) represent tens of millions of dollars in unrealized ticket revenue for the organizers. It also means vacant hotel rooms and empty seats on airlines because all those soccer tourists aren't coming.

Perhaps the most important aspect of this story will be one we don't quite see for months or even years -- what it means to the economy of South Africa to plan for X amount of tourist dollars and to receive X-minus-Y in reality. All those new stadiums, all that infrastructure and a lack of high-end customers to take advantage of it all.

This could turn out to be a massive boondoggle for a country that doesn't really have the spare cash to put on a big party that doesn't pay for itself.

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