How to Sell a World Cup
Ticketing operation is one of the trickiest aspect of organising a sporting event
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