wherein DF travels to Deutschland for the 2006 world cup to follow the US men's national soccer team

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Scalp condition

My earlier post about tickets made me think about measures FIFA has taken to render tickets unique to their original purchasers and how this will affect the World Cup. For all the tix I bought, I had to submit identifying information: name, birthdate, passport number, and nationality.

First, what’s the rationale for this policy? First, the request for passport information suggests that it’s an attempt to cut down on hooliganism. A lot of fans involved with international violence have had their passports revoked, so that suggests that it would be an easy step to deny tickets to people whose passport numbers are on the hooligan list.

Second, it appears to be an attempt to reduce secondary markets—resale on eBay, on-site scalping, etc. But it appears to sweep more broadly than that. If I can’t make the game and have a good friend who would benefit from the ticket, then my friend is out of luck and the ticket goes to waste. There is, of course, a good story to be told about this. If I want to buy a ticket and give it to my hooligan friend (hypothetical friend, that is), then he’s out of luck as well, and that’s a positive result of the policy than no one can really object to.

The only reason I have reservations about it is that my sense is that (1) there’s nothing wrong with secondary markets in ticket sales; and (2) I think a lot more fans than tifosi will be shut out if the unique identifiers are actually enforced. But now that I think more about (1), it could be that if scalpers know that secondary markets will be deflated by the ID policy, they won’t try to buy the tix in the first instance, meaning that initial sales go largely to fans and not to would-be gouging touts. As for (2), it is as the man says an empirical question with an empirical answer, so my sense may be wrong. Also, even if the policy shuts out 20 true fans for every one psycho, that still might be a positive result for the atmosphere overall considering the havoc that the latter could wreak.

Then there’s the question whether the ticketing policy will actually be enforced. I’m not so confident that it will. Enforcement would require every ticket to be matched to a verifiable passport (because standard forms of ID don’t have passport number), although it’s possible that the ticket takers would just require name matching (if the passport number is just to rule out sales to people on the international-hooligan list). Considering that there are as many as 70-odd thousand people going to each game, this could present an insanely difficult logistical issue. But then again, many major clubs have strong ID policies. When I saw Ajax in Amsterdam, it was necessary to buy an ID that was verified at the turnstile when I entered the game. It’s not hard to imagine that the World Cup organizers would be similarly strapped with ticketing tech to reduce logistical snafus (indeed, FIFA's official policy suggests that they'll have just such tech in place).

One other fact is that there’s been and will continue to be large-scale secondary markets despite everyone having known about the ID policy for a long time. I wonder what will happen to the folks who buy on these markets? Will they be simply out of luck? Will it screw up the situation for everyone if every purchaser of a scalped ticket remonstrates with stadium security when they realize their ticket is invalid? And how would it look if FIFA managed to enforce the policy at the cost of excluding thousands of fans and creating swaths of empty seats in the stadiums? They’d still make the same amount of money but it could make for a poorer spectacle.


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