Mike Ticher reports on the unbelievable control that FIFA exercises over all aspects of World Cup ticketing

For those who are too young to remember the Soviet Union, the distribution of World Cup tickets offers a rare chance to get a taste of life as a consumer in an authoritarian society that does not match supply with demand.

Like the former communist regime, FIFA control the means of production, distribution and exchange, but they cannot produce enough of what the people want. That would not be so serious (especially since we are talking about football tickets rather than food or clothes), but even what they do come up with is not tailored to consumer needs. In Soviet times that meant there was always a relatively good chance of buying, say, ill-fitting polyester trousers, but you could not lay your hands on a pair of chinos for love nor money. Similarly, FIFA’s production line cheerfully churns out Saudi Arabia v Tunisia (66,000 capacity in Munich) at a far greater rate than England v Sweden (46,000 in Cologne).

Not that anyone can be too particular. When they see a queue, they rush to join it without knowing what, if anything, is at the end. Here FIFA recreated the random shopping experience (tin-openers or wellington boots? Korea v Togo or Australia v Brazil?) by forcing most of their customers to place their orders before anyone knew what they were buying.

Naturally, not all the goods go straight to the public, either. About one-fifth of total production is set aside for important party functionaries and various hangers-on. In Soviet times words such as politburo, apparatchiks and nomenklatura were used to describe them. Now they are known as “partners and suppliers”, “TV rights holders” and “the international football family”.

Not surprisingly, this lop-sided distribution helps to sustain a thriving black market, populated by opportunists on street corners (that is, eBay) and the more sinister organised gangs who go by bland names such as Euroteam. Such profiteers are regularly denounced by the regime’s propaganda machine, but never run short of supplies and appear to operate with the protection or indifference of the law-enforcement system. Not so the ordinary punters, who may find themselves having to explain to the police how they came by that slightly shoddy but undeniably new TV set (or a pair of category three obstructed views to Holland v Argentina).

Finally, of course, all dictatorships, benevolent or otherwise, talk the same language. Whatever happens, it is for the good of the people. We have your best interests at heart. Asparagus production in the previous quarter has exceeded the plan five-fold, but don’t be surprised if you don’t see the effects in the shops just yet. And the stadiums will be packed with jolly, non-partisan fans of football in general at the best World Cup ever.

FIFA’s website interpreted

What they say: “Fans around the world who have requested tickets via publicly available sales channels are the big winners. We have significantly increased these quotas.”

What they mean: “But you personally almost certainly won’t get them.”

New figures released by the Organising Committee after the third ticket sales phase reveal changes to the ticket distribution plan benefiting supporters everywhere.
Don’t get your hopes up.

Good news for fans: up to mid-March we expect additional tickets allocated for the public sales.

You still won’t get them.

To improve the speed and ease of use of the service, we have imposed a limit on the number of visitors able to use the [internet] ticket shop simultaneously.
You’ll never get through. Stop wasting your time.

MasterCard is the Exclusive Card of the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™.

Even if you get lucky, don’t entertain any crazy ideas about paying by Visa.

As a security measure and to deter black market trading, tickets may only be transferred with the agreement of the Organising Committee.

We’d rather have a crowd picked at random than fans of the two teams. Swapping tickets with no money changing hands constitutes a black market.

Tickets may be transferred by ticket purchasers to nominated individuals.
But only if the person who bought them is dead, or going downhill fast.

We’ve said it often enough and we’re saying it again: tickets are only transferable for good reasons – and profiteering isn’t a good reason.
Nor is wanting to watch your own country.

We’re considering legal action to halt this situation [sales on eBay].
Though not against touts’ websites or sponsors who are the source of black-market tickets.

What we can say with a clear conscience is that we have developed an easy to follow, fair and open ticket distribution system – Franz Beckenbauer.
I’ve got mine sorted.

From WSC 232 June 2006. What was happening this month

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