JOHANNESBURG – World Cup organizers say 500,000 tickets are unsold and fear “tragic” empty stadiums at soccer’s showcase event.
FIFA said Friday the tickets would go on sale over the counter to the general public in South Africa on Thursday. Organizers will then have less than two months to sell nearly a quarter of the Cup’s total match tickets to avoid empty seats.
“I think that today there is one challenge that we definitely have to work on,” FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke told the Associated Press. “It’s to make sure all the stadiums are full and that we are selling all these tickets.”
Organizers conceded their initial online process was not suited to local fans, who are generally poor, do not have credit cards and are not used to buying tickets on the Internet.
“There is always time to learn,” Valcke said, while organizing committee chief Danny Jordaan said it would be “tragic” for the host country if stadiums were empty.
“If we do have empty stadiums, it will reinforce the idea that football is not supported in the country and that would be tragic,” Jordaan said.
“The reality is that this is a football-mad country.”
Sales have not reflected that.
Jordaan urged fans to “go buy now” at the 11 World Cup ticketing centers and at supermarkets and banks.
In Soweto to unveil the official match ticket, with its unique barcodes to avoid forging and combat black-market selling, tournament organizers could not avoid the biggest problem with the tickets: not enough people are buying them.
FIFA said 2.2 million tickets had been sold ahead of the fifth and final sales phase. Fans in the host country had bought 925,437, followed by the United States with 118,945.
But just 67,654 World Cup tickets have been sold in the UK, less than the number of fans who typically attend a Manchester United home game. Germany has only purchased 32,269.
And FIFA did not say exactly how many of the 500,000 tickets still to go were returned from commercial partners and affiliates. Football’s governing body only said it was “a significant number.”
The global economic climate and safety fears in South Africa may have played a part in the disappointing foreign sales, but FIFA admitted it had made mistakes with local fans.
“Yes, definitely, the approach at the beginning by using Internet and by using computers was not the most friendly system for the South Africans,” Valcke said.
So 120,000 category four tickets, the cheapest and reserved exclusively for South Africans, are still to be sold.
South Africans are being asked to pay $19 for a group game, not including the tournament opener. To watch South Africa play Mexico in the opener a local supporter will have to pay $67.
Soccer fans in the country rarely pay more than $2 for a ticket to watch a local game.
The average monthly income in South Africa is estimated at just more than $372.
Valcke said FIFA would consider opening the category four tickets to neighboring African countries if they did not sell.
Organizers said the “positive” interest from U.S. fans was triggered by the country’s performances at last year’s Confederations Cup in South Africa. “After that the interest (in the United States) skyrocketed,” Jordaan said.