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On the Hunt for the Elusive Ticket

By Daniel Mufson
Originally printed in The Wall Street Journal Europe, Fri.-Sun., Dec. 16-18, 2005, p. W8.

The toughest goal at this summer’s World Cup might well be scoring a ticket.

With two of five sales periods organized by FIFA over, and a third under way, it’s evident that demand far outstrips seats at the 64 games that will be played in Germany.

In the first selling phase, 1.5 million people put in orders for about 8.5 million tickets—about 10 times the amount of tickets on sale, according to FIFA ORganizing Committee spokesman Jens Grittner. “We were told by FIFA that there’s never been so much interest in a World Cup as there is in this one in Germany.”

The system for ordering tickets is drawing complaints. “When you hear how hard it is to get tickets—friends who ask for five tickets and only get one and don’t know who they’re sitting next to—you lose interest in trying to get a ticket for a game that’s not happening for months,” says Hans Martin Ammon, a floorings merchant who lives in a suburb of Nuremberg, where some of the World Cup games will be played.

It’s sparking legal action as well. Germany’s main consumer association, Verbraucherzentrale Bundesverband, on Thursday said it made progress in a Frankfurt court to try ot force FIFA to change some of its ticket-sales policies. For example, handling fees, ranging from zero to €50, depending on the type of ticket, are nonrefundable, even for those who don’t get a ticket, and many customers who don’t get tickets won’t receive their refunds until four weeks after the World Cup is over. According to the Verbraucherzentrale, the court validated its complaints and requested FIFA negotiate a settlement with the group by the end of the day. The outcome of the talks wasn’t available by press time.

To order tickets through FIFA, you can go to the group’s Web site or apply by fax or post. Tickets in the current buying round, which lasts until Jan. 15, will be distributed by lottery. FIFA estimates about 250,000 tickets will be allotted. The fourth and fifth rounds, Feb. 15-April 15 and May 1-July 9, will be distributed on a first-come, first-served basis.

At FIFA’s Web site, http://www.fifa.com, it’s clear ticket distribution isn’t a simple affair. The list of frequently asked questions runs to a mind-numbing 92. Drifting in the seas of text, available in English, German, Spanish and French, are important but cumbersome details. There are three main types of tickets—straightforward individual tickets; conditionals tickets, which give holders priority when returned match tickets come up for reallocation; and team specific ticket series (TSTs), which allow a fan to follow a team as it progresses through the tournament. Individual tickets range from €35 to €600 (unless your view is partially obstructed); TSTs range from €149 to €1,760. Among other restrictions, if you’re allocated individual tickets, you’re no longer allowed to apply for TSTs, and vice versa.

FIFA’s Mr. Grittner says the sales system is necessarily elaborate and dismisses other criticisms, saying the tickets overall are cheaper than they were at the past tow World Cup tournaments, even when handling fees are added.

For those who don’t care to sift through FIFA’s application process, there are a few other options to consider, as well as some to avoid.

First, it’s probably best to avoid the black market. To make scalping more difficult, tickets for the first time will have the holder’s name on them and an identification chip with personal information. If your ID doesn’t match your ticket, you might be refused entry to the stadium, though some seasoned World Cup-goers doubt the checks will be that thorough in the end.

Tickets are more-or-less non-transferable without the written consent of the FIFA ORganizing Committee, and the transfer will require the OC to issue a new ticket carrying the appropriate identification.

Getting tickets through your national soccer club is possible in theory. But being a member helps. England’s Football Association, for example, received 3,500 to 5,000 tickets for each of the first two games in which England is playing, and they have written to FIFA requesting a larger allocation. A spokesperson for England’s Association said that all the tickets would be reserved for members of the “englandfans” club, and joining now in order to get a ticket isn’t an option.

It’s possible to purchase tickets through agencies that sell World Cup packages. FIFA has authorized iSe-Hospitality in Zurich to offer “hospitality packages” that include tickets, catering, gifts and entertainment. Prices range from €1,900 for a three-match package to €13,200 for a six-match package that includes the final. Arrangements with iSe can be made via FIFA’s Web site by clicking on the “Hospitality” link. FIFA initially reserved just under 347,000 tickets for these hospitality packages; at the latest count, about 52% of them had already been sold.

On the Web sites of various sports-tour operators, you can find a variety of packages that may include match tickets, hotel accommodations and transportation between matches. It’s important to check that you are dealing with a reputable agency and to understand what you are buying. Norway-based Euroteam, for instance, states on its Web site, http://www.euroteam.info, that it is “in no way affiliated with any official organizer” and that its ticket prices are typically “substantially over face value.”

There’s another, albeit slim, hope for snagging a ticket: Win one. The World Cup’s corporate sponsors have been allotted a total of 555,000 tickets. Some of those will be distributed to the public in promotional efforts. The two biggest distributors of tickets probably will be McDonald’s Corp. and Coca-Cola Co., which will give away 15,000 and 12,000 tickets, respectively, in Germany alone. McDonald’s in Germany, for example, will take applications from April 29 until May 13 from children ages 6 to 10. The downside: McDonald’s expects 650,000 applications.

Lastly, there is a cost-free option for seeing the games that doesn’t involve watching television at home. European cities have set up large screens for public viewing in the past, and city officials in Paris, London, and Milan say they will do so again this summer. But Germany’s plans take the idea of public viewing to another level.

The 12 host cities, in collaboration with FIFA, are planning so-called Fan Fests. They will have huge screens at some of their most scenic locations, and the viewing areas will be surrounded by stages for musica nd dance performances as well as booths offering souvenirs and food.

Munich will set up a 72-square-meter screen on a boat floating in the Olympia See, a lake at the old Olympic Park grounds. A city spokesperson estimates that the surrounding Olympia Park area will accommodate as many as 25,000 visitors. The area will be inaugurated on June 6 with a concert featuring Plácido Domingo, the Bavarian Orchestra directed by Zubin Mehta, the Munich Philharmonic under Christian Thielemann, and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra under Mariss Jansons.

Hamburg’s big screen will be at the Domgelände am Heiligengeistfeld, a 160,000-square-meter area that can accommodate 50,000 spectators. Berlin will have large screens at multiple locations that show off its history as well as its latest attempts at reinventing itself. A “Fan Mile” will stretch from Brandenburg Gate ot the Victory Column, accommodating as many as 100,000 people with large-screen viewing along the Strasse der 17. Juni—the broad avenue will be closed to traffic for the duration of the competition. In front of the Reichstag, Adidas will construct a mini version of Berlin’s Olympic Stadium that will provide for an additional 8,000 spectators. Screens will also be erected in the Sony Center at Potsdamer Platz, at the Kulturforum nearby, and at Treptower Park, which alone will accommodate as many as 25,000 visitors.

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