South Africa and FIFA are facing up to the very real prospect of stadiums devoid of fans this summer. Marketing errors, cultural differences and the crisis have all piled on the pressure for the organisers to ensure that the games will be a success.
South Africa is engaged in a race against time to avoid the spectre of empty stadiums in June, as international fans turn their backs on the richest World Cup in history.
Moves in the past few days by the local organisers and by football’s governing body, FIFA, suggest the third round of ticket sales, launched on 5 December, will not prevent the World Cup from becoming a financial fiasco for South Africa.
While FIFA has already made a record 2.1 billion euros from the sale of sponsorship and television rights, the problem lies in low international take-up of premium tickets and apparent apathy among South Africans.
FIFA’s growing concern
FIFA remains tight-lipped about the true extent of its disappointment, but CEO Jerome Valcke indicated on 2 December that previous concerns about the lack of accommodation in South Africa were now a ‘’non-issue’’.
He also announced a new emphasis on FIFA “fan fests” – open-air events around large television screens - which will allow supporters to follow the 64-match tournament in towns and cities around the world.
At a press conference ahead of the 4 December final draw in Cape Town, Valcke asked Local Organising Committee chief executive Danny Jordaan for an explanation for the lack of interest among South Africans.
Jordaan blamed “cultural” factors, explaining that South Africans are accustomed to buying tickets at the turnstiles. He conceded that the sales method used in South Africa – internet and applications at banks – excluded the majority of his countrymen and women, who are poor. Valcke announced that new sales methods would be tried in South Africa from January, including a 330,000 euro call centre and ticketing booths in large cities.
To fill South Africa’s 11 World Cup stadiums for the 64 matches of the month-long event, 3.8 million tickets need to be sold. With just over six months to go before kick off on 11 June, only 20 per cent – or 671,000 - have been sold, according to FIFA figures.
South Africans can buy the cheapest tickets at a reduced price of 140 rands (12 euros), but they still have only applied for less than 362,000 seats.
In the first two sales phases, international take-up was about equal to South Africa’s. Valcke said the third phase of ticket sales would last until 22 January after which one million unsold tickets from phases one and two – as well as tickets returned by sponsors - would be put back on the market.
South Africa, which has millions of poor people, a continuing Aids problem and unemployment estimated at 40 percent, has spent an estimated one billion euros on infrastructure development and five new stadiums. The projects have created at least 70,000 project-linked jobs and, so far, softened the impact of the global recession.
Isn't South Africa appealing to fans?
But predictions that 450,000 overseas World Cup visitors would spend one billion euros in South Africa are now being radically revised downwards.
International fans may have been put off by reports of South Africa’s murder rate – the highest in the world at 50 deaths per day. Or they may simply be unable to pay the high air fares to get to South Africa. A return ticket from Europe costs a minimum of 1,000 euros even in non-premium periods.
The official warm-up for the World Cup, the FIFA Confederations Cup held in South Africa in June 2009, provided a warning to the organisers.
Fewer than 400,000 tickets were sold.
Date created : 2009-12-05