India’s Cricket World Cup Ticket Woes

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The closely watched cricket World Cup matchup between India and England ended in a draw yesterday — the English batsmen, led by a dominant Andrew Strauss, almost got the better of the lackluster Indian bowlers — but I couldn’t keep my eyes off the stands. I wanted to know, who were those lucky people who managed to get tickets?

There were only 7,500 tickets available to the public, for a stadium that holds 50,000. When they went on sale last week, police in Bangalore beat back the unlucky ones who had queued all night and were left empty-handed and angry. The International Cricket Council had warned about exactly this kind of violence in a stern letter to Indian cricket officials. The supply-demand mismatch for the April 2 final in Mumbai is even worse: only 4,000 tickets are allotted to the public, less than 10% of the 45,000 seats available. The ICC complained that not even the corporate sponsors have gotten their promised tickets, let alone the fans.

Where are they all going? The vast majority of the tickets are are given out for free, as favors by local cricketing bodies to bureaucrats and police. One cricket official gave a surprisingly frank assessment of why this is such a common practice:

“These are the people that help us and without them we cannot run the show,” said S.C. Bansal, honorary general secretary for the Delhi and District Cricket Association (DDCA), that organizes matches at the Capital’s Feroz Shah Kotla ground. “Otherwise, they will bill us for their services.”

Rather than call out India, the biggest and most lucrative cricket-watching market in the world, for failing in this basic test of sports-venue management, the ICC has come up with a novel solution – forms! As the India Real Time blog explains:

People who want to buy tickets need to fill in a public ballot application form when the system opens. Applicants are limited to two tickets, the ICC said in a statement Saturday. After submitting the form, applicants will receive a ballot confirmation number.

The short-term consequence of all this is a growing cynicism by cricket fans, who have figured out that the tens of millions of Indians watching at home on television are far more important to advertisers – and therefore to the sport’s governing bodies – than those who love the game enough to come out and watch it in person. A similar ticket giveaway last year left thousands of empty seats at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi. And yet the international sports world can’t seem to get enough of India. FIFA President Sepp Blatter has said that he would support a bid by India to host the football World Cup in 2026. It sounds farfetched — India’s national football team has never qualified to play in the World Cup —but only slightly less unlikely than Qatar in 2022.

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