SBJ/April 1 - 7, 2002/Marketingsponsorship

FIFA's control of tickets has grown much tighter but isn't complete

The path to World Cup 2002 tickets, hotels and travel packages is cluttered by numerous choices, but not all roads will lead to guaranteed stadium seats in the co-hosting nations of Japan and South Korea.

The world governing body of soccer, FIFA, has taken much tighter rein on ticket inventories than ever before. But while the ticket sales policy for the 2002 Cup is structured "with the independent [soccer] fan in mind," it has not eliminated entrepreneurs who operate under old rules, said Ged Holmes of the U.K.-based FIFA World Cup Ticketing Bureau.

"Some [packagers] are working on the basis of the traditional way of operating, where you sell first [to the public], then go out and buy the inventory you need," said Holmes, marketing director of the FIFA bureau, operated by Byrom Consultants Ltd. "They are trying to handle this World Cup the way they have previous World Cups."

Much of the activity is happening online. The domain worldcuptickets.com is operated by ticketing agent RazorGator.com but has no affiliation to FIFA. The site lists numerous ticket/hotel packages for sale. A package for the U.S. team's three first-round games in Korea for two people, including tickets and 12 hotel nights in three cities, is available for $11,398.

RazorGator's "exclusive online offer" for the World Cup, according to the site, is in conjunction with exclusive provider PrimeSport International of Marietta, Ga. A member of the PrimeSport staff, who declined to be identified, said the company does not respond to questions about how it acquires event tickets. Another unofficial site, worldcuptixx.com, uses the official World Cup 2002 logo, though it is not linked to any FIFA sites.

"Tour operators do not really have a legal right to use tickets as part of their packages," said Randy Bernstein, vice president of sales and marketing for the Yahoo! FIFA World Cup partnership, which includes production of the official portal fifaworldcup.com.

FIFA did not prohibit tour packagers from buying ticket blocks in the past. But for 2002, sources have been reduced to three: fifa-tickets.com, national soccer federations and, geared less to public consumption, the 15 official FIFA World Cup sponsors. Sponsors can use their allocations for internal hospitality packages or consumer promotions and sweepstakes. Of the 3.2 million tickets produced for the Cup, 6.1 percent (195,200) go to sponsors, according to spokesperson Regula Bleuler of FIFA Marketing in Switzerland.

  TAKING SIDES: FIFA President Joseph “Sepp” Blatter recently sent another volley over the bow in the growing power standoff between his organization and UEFA, the body governing Europe's vast club framework. Blatter made public statements that UEFA holds too much power because it has eight of 24 seats on the FIFA executive committee.

Within a week and to the surprise of few, UEFA chief Lennart Johansson endorsed the candidacy of Africa's Issa Hayatou, who will oppose Blatter in his bid for re-election to the FIFA presidency. The vote is May 29 in Seoul, two days before the World Cup opener.

Blatter critics say he must shoulder blame for FIFA's financial setbacks after the demise of its marketing agency, ISL. Blatter stands by audited losses of $30 million, but others inside FIFA believe the damage was worse and are conducting an internal investigation, approved by the FIFA executive committee.

 FOOT NOTES: In a recent Harris Interactive poll conducted to gauge interest in World Cup soccer, 49 percent of respondents said they would follow World Cup news on the Internet. While that might suggest productivity slowdowns at the office, fervor generated by the tournament might be felt at home, too. Six percent indicated they would trade "a significant other" for two tickets to the World Cup final in June. ... The Korea Development Institute forecasts a $604 million infusion for Korea's economy this spring. The boost will come from an estimated 400,000 overseas visitors attending the World Cup.

Steve Woodward can be reached at SteveWoodwardHere@hotmail.com.

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