Arthur Goldstuck
Arthur Goldstuck

Stop bleating Jordaan, you made the rules

It’s not a pretty sound. The Local Organising Committee for World Cup 2010 whining about the slow pace of ticket sales is a little like football teams complaining that they don’t get enough credit for their attractive style of football, even as they are being relegated to a lower league.

The reality is that Fifa, in consultation with the Local Organising Committee (LOC), set the rules and procedures for local ticket allocation.

For Danny Jordaan to complain that England will have more supporters at their games than Bafana Bafana is disingenuous in the extreme.

“It will be tragic is this trend continues,” he said yesterday.

Yes, indeed. It’s tragic that Jordaan and his colleagues have allowed this trend to emerge in the first place.

There are two categories of failure built into the process.

The first has been pointed out by numerous media, and that is the complexity of the application process. It is a well-known principle in usability analysis that any product, device, system or service involving payment or funds transfer must balance security and control with simplicity. The higher the control provisions, the lower the take-up. The more lenient the control, the higher the take-up.

Fifa and the local organising committee are clearly oblivious to this principle, forcing soccer fans to jump through hoops. Even before we get to online sales, these are some of the restrictions they have put in place:
* You cannot simply buy a ticket; you must apply for it. People want and need to know, at the time of a purchase decision, what they are purchasing and what it will cost them. First own goal.
* To apply for a ticket, you have to fill in a complicated form, which requires not only your own personal details and identity number, but also the same details for those who you expect to accompany you to the games — for every ticket. Second own goal.
* If you don’t have internet access, you can only apply for tickets through the branches of a single bank, whether you are a client of that bank or not. Third own goal.

Soccer doesn’t have the baseball metaphor for three strikes and you’re out, but three own goals would surely doom any team to defeat. Yet, there’s more from Fifa and the LOC.

The cost of the tickets is an absurdity in a country where most soccer fans are used to paying from R20 to R40 for a match. After the first round, the cheapest ticket (Category 4) is R350, and that confines you to the far corners in the upper reaches of the stadia. Even Category 3 tickets keep you so far from the action, it’s hard to justify a minimum for R700 for any match past the first round (and R560 for the first round).

The second category of failure is the online system.

The online booking process has been a nightmare. The usability of the Fifa site’s ticketing section scores well below even South African corporate websites. And then the amount of detail required for every match for which you apply is absurd.

If you were awarded a ticket in the first two “blind” rounds (when you simply applied based on dates and venues, as the teams were not yet known), and it turned out to be for a match which you would prefer not to watch, you couldn’t exchange it for another match, even where tickets were still available. If you were awarded two tickets, and wanted to apply for an additional two (there is a maximum of four tickets allowed per household), there is no facility for that. And if your household has more than four people, tough luck.

That’s how many more own goals? I’ve lost count. But by now, the metaphorical team would have been booed off the field.

I queried one nonsensical requirement with Fifa, and eventually got a response. The issue is this: Whether online or offline, no household may purchase tickets for more than seven games. For those who came to the party during the first two rounds of booking, and managed to get allocations for all seven games (as I did after a series of attempts), there is now no chance of booking for additional, specific matches, or getting more tickets for a specific match.

Having a soccer-mad household and company (talking football every Monday morning is a job requirement at World Wide Worx), we are now precluded from hosting clients at or attending a number of mouth-watering games for which, it appears, ticket sales have been woeful and are very available. I want those tickets, Fifa is desperate to sell them, but their policy is cast in stone. Or rather, cast in bureaucracy.

This was Fifa’s response to my query:

    “The Household Restrictions were put in place to ensure that as many fans as possible have the opportunity to purchase tickets.

    “A Ticket Applicant can only apply for a maximum of four (4) single Tickets for up to seven (7) Matches per household. This is explained in the Sales Regulations and FAQs:
    10. Household Limits. A Ticket Applicant can only apply for a maximum of four (4) single Tickets for up to seven (7) Matches per household …

    “Before submitting your application you were asked to confirm that you have read and understood the T & Cs, Sales Regulations and all other ticketing related documents. By completing and submitting the Ticket Application Form to FIFA, the Ticket Applicant irrevocably agrees, acknowledges and undertakes to fully comply with, the Ticket Sales Regulations and the 2010 Fifa World Cup South Africa™ General Terms and Conditions for the Use of Tickets.”

Well gee, I’m sorry for supporting you wholeheartedly from the start, Fifa! I’m sorry for submitting my applications before I even knew who I would be watching, Fifa! I apologise for irrevocably agreeing, acknowledging and undertaking anything with you at a time when ticket applications were a leap of faith, Fifa! Oh, and I truly regret having to fully comply with the ticket-sales regulations!

But now that I am complying, perhaps you can come to the party too?

This was Fifa’s last word: “You have been successful for the maximum number of matches and will therefore not be able to request any more tickets.”

So, Mr Jordaan, if diehard soccer fans are not able to buy tickets as they wish, you can keep your “tragic”. If soccer fans can’t buy tickets in a process that makes sense, Mr Jordaan, you can keep your “worried” to yourself. If the “household restrictions” were put in place to ensure that as many fans as possible have the opportunity to purchase tickets, but they’re not interested or can’t afford them, you can keep your restrictions and your crocodile tears, Mr Jordaan.

It is understandable that nothing much can be done about the ticket prices at this stage (without creative thinking, that is), but if Fifa and the LOC are sincere about their concerns, they will ease the process for South Africans and Africans, they will relax some the terms and conditions, and they will be more flexible in their household restrictions. All else is press conference bluster.