How to Sell a World Cup

Tick­et­ing op­er­a­tion is one of the trick­i­est as­pect of or­gan­is­ing a sport­ing event

The Economic Times - - Sports: The Great Games - Joy Bhat­tachar­jya

On the 17th of May, the first ma­jor mile­stone for the FIFA U-17 World Cup was ac­com­plished when Car­les Puyol handed over the first ticket to the fam­ily of Shib­das Bhaduri, the cap­tain of the leg­endary Mo­hun Ba­gan team that won the IFA Shield. It was ex­actly 19:11, the year that Ba­gan won that epic game. It ac­ti­vated one of the most im­por­tant parts of tour­na­ment or­gan­i­sa­tion, the tick­et­ing oper­a­tions.

On the face of it, tick­et­ing seems the sim­plest pos­si­ble op­er­a­tion. Just pick up an old sta­dium map, find the num­ber of seats avail­able and put them up for sale. It is one of the most com­pli­cated oper­a­tions in both de­sign and ex­e­cu­tion.

The first ma­jor task is the cre­ation of a tick­et­ing man­i­fest – a plan that maps out ev­ery seat in the sta­dium. Now, while ex­ist­ing maps are usu­ally there with the au­thor­i­ties, most are in­ac­cu­rate. One big rea­son is that most In­dian sta­di­ums did not orig­i­nally have bucket seats, so all ca­pac­i­ties were judged on a rough ba­sis and as­sume very lit­tle space be­tween peo­ple. Most sta­di­ums lose a lot of ca­pac­ity by con­vert­ing to safer and in­fin­itely more com­fort­able bucket seats. Salt Lake will now seat less than half of the es­ti­mated 140,000 that watched a Derby match in 1997.

The other is­sue is that high-qual­ity tele­vi­sion cov­er­age in­volves putting in cam­eras around the ground, even in places not en­vi­sioned thirty years ago. So all the seats close to or be­hind that cam­era plat­form are also ‘killed’. They also may be struc­tural is­sues for which a par­tic­u­lar stand should not seat more than a cer­tain num­ber of peo­ple. Af­ter a six-month process and nu­mer­ous walk­throughs to de­ter­mine seat kills, the fi­nal sta­dium man­i­fest records the num­ber of seats avail­able.

The next stage is de­cid­ing the cat­e­gories of tick­ets. The clos­est tick­ets to the ground are nor­mally the most cov­eted in most in­ter­na­tional foot­ball sta­di­ums, but In­dian sta­di­ums ei­ther have a run­ning track or are also oval shaped to also al­low cricket matches. So the low­est level seats don’t al­ways have the best view of the ground. Each view is pho­tographed and com­pared be­fore fi­nally de­cid­ing on the ticket cat­e­gory. What is also de­cided is the order in which they will sell in each cat­e­gory. Gen­er­ally, all cat­e­gories start with the seats most likely to be picked up by cam­eras to make sure that the sta­di­ums look as full as pos­si­ble.

Once seats and cat­e­gories are fixed, they need to be priced. Given that it is a de­vel­op­ment tour­na­ment, profit is not the ob­jec­tive. But the big­gest nightma r e for or­ga­niz­ers is peo­ple not t u r ni ng up a f t er tak­ing com­pli­men­tary tick­ets, wast­ing both money and space. So while a subst a ntia l num­ber of tick­ets will be given free of cost to school­child­ren, they will also need to be ‘earned’ by the kids through var­i­ous ac­tiv­i­ties in the MXIM pro­gram. At the same time, t i c k e t s c a n’ t b e priced out of reach. E v e nt u a l l y, the prices were fixed with a sim­ple met­ric i n mi nd. We wanted to give fans an op­por­tu­nity to watch a World Cup game for less than a hun­dred ru­pees, be­cause then no­body had an ex­cuse to not watch a match. The fi­nal and most im­por­tant part of tick­et­ing is de­cid­ing the var­i­ous phases. The FIFA strat­egy is de­signed to re­ward foot­ball lovers first. So when the tick­ets were first re­leased, spec­ta­tors could buy only venue pack­ages at a hefty sixty per­cent dis­count. The logic is that at that stage, the fans buy­ing tick­ets did not even know the draw or the spe­cific teams play­ing, just the match dates in a city. So they were buy-

—AFP ing purely for the love of foot­ball, and the priv­i­lege of watch­ing a World Cup match, not a spe­cific team.

The next stage of tick­et­ing was af­ter the draw, when the spec­ta­tors ac­tu­ally knew the teams, and there­fore the group stage, but had to take in­formed guesses on which team would end up in the knock out stages. And there are many smart buys avail­able there. All those buy­ing a quar­ter­fi­nal ticket in Kolkata would have plot­ted the draw and are probably hop­ing for a Brazil game.

The fi­nal stage of ticket sales is dur­ing a tour­na­ment, lit­er­ally mir­ror­ing the rise and falls of the com­pet­ing teams.

Back to the 16th of May. It was a nerve rack­ing evening, wait­ing for the sales to start. And when the first re­port came in, just one hour later, Javier took the call and then turned to mouth ‘three thou­sand.’ Aus­pi­cious be­gin­nings.

On the face of it, tick­et­ing seems the sim­plest pos­si­ble op­er­a­tion. In re­al­ity, it is one of the most com­pli­cated one in both de­sign and ex­e­cu­tion

Gen­er­ally, the seats most likely to be picked up by cam­eras are sold first to make sure that sta­di­ums look as full as pos­si­ble

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