Tuesday, June 17, 2008

UEFA ticketing casts FIFA in bad light

The most pleasant aspect of EURO 2008 for me has been the sight of banks of fans in the stadia.
UEFA ticketing casts FIFA in bad light.
The corporate hospitality is still there, with 80,000 packages sold, and while that is 80,000 too many for my liking, I have not noticed huge numbers of suits inside the grounds like I have at the last three World Cups.

No, in the matches I have attended in Innsbruck, Geneva and Vienna, I have been struck by the swathes of the competing countries' fans, the people who surely must get priority for tickets above all others.

This is how football used to be and could be again, I thought.

This is because, for EURO 2008, national associations received 38% of the tickets, as opposed to the 19% they get from FIFA for World Cups.

In addition, FIFA sold 15.2% of World Cup tickets in 2006 to the German FA and FIFA 'family', whoever they are, while UEFA's 2008 allocation was only 3%.

Worryingly, UEFA's allocation to corporate hospitality has doubled since 2004 to 8% of the total, but it still less than FIFA's 11.3%.

When fan tickets start at only €45, it is no wonder they sell these pacUEFA ticketing casts FIFA in bad light.kages, which begin at €1250 for first-round games and rise to €2,000 for quarter finals, €4,000 for semis and €8,000 for the final, per person!

14% of EURO 2008 tickets went to sponsors as opposed to 16% of World Cup tickets, while the percentages for sales to the general public were 33% to 36%, where of course many genuine fans got their tickets from.

UEFA's allocation of 19% per country per game does leave a lot to be desired on paper, when the Champions League final allocation per team is 27% and England fans at Wembley enjoy about 90% of match tickets.

Many corporate tickets are still ending up in the hands of touts, who in the Alps are asking €400 per ticket as they did in Germany in 2006.

While supporters used to be split between those who went to games and 'armchair' fans, the upsurge in interest in football and the unpleasant arrival of corporate hospitality into the people's game has forced fans elsewhere.

Far more fans are to be found outside than inside the stadia themselves in host cities, where the practice of travelling overseas to watch games on big screens in publically-organised viewing areas is now the standard of fan culture.

When six of the eight stadia in EURO 2008 hold only the minimum required capacity of 30,000 seats, supporters were always going to look elsewhere to congregate.

Following their success in Germany in 2006, the future of overseas match trips looks to be ticketless travel to vast fan zones.

While nothing beats the stadium experience, the fan zones are the next best thing when done well. In fact the Vienna fan zone is much better than those I went to in Germany, with many more big screens and reasonably priced food and drink stands you don't waste time queueing for.

The uncomfortable feeling persists that in the modern age of football, fans forking out to attend games in globally televised tournaments are far from the priority for the organizers, and are largely accommodated for the purposes of adding colour to the commercially marketable televised spectacle.

Nevertheless, the stadium ticket allocation here has felt like a breath of fresh air after the farce of the World Cup.

With South Africa only two years away and the torrent of opprobrium heaped on FIFA's rotten ticketing allocation last time still vivid, let us hope the sport’s world governing body learns something from the fun and football-loving stadia of EURO 2008.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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