Sunday, January 20, 2013

The trouble with tickets

The first of my posts from the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations in South Africa

The trouble with getting tickets for the 2013 edition of the Africa Cup of Nations was twofold. Firstly, as someone not living in South Africa, the only option was to buy them online. This in itself didn’t seem problematic but the tricky thing was that no-one seemed to know where this website was. When details of how to buy tickets in South Africa were released back in October, all that was mentioned for overseas visitors was that details would be forthcoming. Even the CAF website was strangely quiet. Knowing some South African sports journalists, I turned to them for the information required but even the people in the know didn’t know. Eventually, in December, word got to me via Facebook that the site was now active. I tried multiple times to order tickets online but the site kept crashing. Still, after some perseverance, I managed to get tickets for the opening game and the final at Johannesburg’s National Stadium.

The second problem was that on paying for the tickets, I only received a voucher to collect them on arrival. Again, not a problem as such until you realised that you could only pick them up from a small number of Spar shops from around the country. This was a major design flaw, not only from my perspective but for many South Africans. When ticket sales opened, some complained that they could not find one of these stores to buy tickets, they did not live near one and had no transport by which to get to one, or that the ticket machines were frequently offline. While there is a culture of leaving buying tickets to the last minute within South African football supporters, the ticketing process has undoubtedly contributed to vast numbers of tickets remaining unsold by the beginning of the tournament. Two days before the opening game, only one quarter of tickets for games at Durban’s Moses Mabhida stadium had reportedly been sold.

In spite of all this, I managed to locate one such Spar and turned up six hours before kick off and found the ticket terminal. What I found was a German report and cameraman filming the ticket collection process. As tickets were being printed out, the camera went in for a close up of the machine. As these tickets were being handed over to a customer, the cameraman didn’t like the angle and so told the cashier to take them back and hand them over again, but only when he was ready. So when I was next in the queue, the reporter got excited that a couple of British tourists had travelled over for the tournament and the microphone was pointed in my direction. After my customary “um”, “er” and “ah”, it transpired that they were interested in the ticketing issue. On being asked what I thought of it all, I answered that despite the initial problems, it turned out to be straightforward. And it was. I walked into the shop, showed my voucher and my ID and walked out with my correct tickets. No problems, no fuss (apart from the TV people – they were from ZDF, if anyone wants to find out whether I made it onto German television).

And if you can look beyond the niggles that I was earlier moaning about, the ticketing for the tournament has been far better this time around than the World Cup in 2010. Not in terms of how to get tickets, but the relative affordability for the wider South African football-supporting public. Although FIFA’s flagship tournament had introduced the cheaper South African-only category 4 tickets designed to allow the majority of the country’s football support base (black, working class) the opportunity to be a part of the tournament, the cheapest ticket priced at R140/ £10 (domestic matches cost R20/ £1.40) still priced many out of attending. Factor in the cost of transport, and overpriced food and drink, a day out to a World Cup match was still beyond the reach of many.

This time around, the organisers appear to have hit closer to the mark. 2010 was more for the foreign tourists, but with tickets starting at R50/ £3.50 for the group games, it maybe that 2013 is a tournament for South Africans.

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