“It’s a special, festive kind of atmosphere”. These words from Yoann Huget, the prolific French fullback, sum up the fervour surrounding the Rugby World Cup in Japan this year. Fans will no doubt also be going to experience this “special atmosphere”, travelling around the world to see their country’s shot at glory. Tournament organisers proudly boasted of reaching their target of 1.8 million ticket sales by the end of the group stage, with more than 99 per cent of tickets sold for all games. And whilst this incredible statistic should be lauded as a sign that the ever-growing game of rugby has reached a previously untapped Asian audience, it is, however, for many fans, a reminder of how increasingly hard and expensive it is to enjoy live international rugby.
It’s been well documented that fans from around the world have struggled to get hold of tickets to see their team play. The first round of sales was organised, as most international sporting tournaments are, through an online ballot. Within the first four days of the ballot opening, 500,000 people applied for just 180,000 tickets. Many endured the 20 hour waiting times, only to be told that their payment had been rejected when they finally got through to checkout. However those who banked with Mastercard had life a little easier. The Rugby World Cup’s main Worldwide Partner offered huge benefits to its loyal customers - with those who applied for tickets with their Mastercard, automatically receiving double entries into the ballot.
Some countries admittedly had it harder than others. New Zealand is a proud rugby nation, home to a side that currently presides over an unprecedented era of dominance, unrivalled by any, not just in rugby, but world sport. Some 30,000 Kiwis applied to the ballot, eager for a chance to see their country defend their title for the third successive year, a unique achievement in the sport. But with a total population of 4.8 million, what were the chances of getting a ticket? 1 in every 160 people in New Zealand tried…
Faced with these insurmountable odds, many fans have looked to buy tickets off others that were lucky the first-time round. Organisers recognised there would be a high demand for this, and sanctioned an ‘official’ resale website, in which fans that were no longer able to attend the games they bought tickets for can resell them to others at face value. This sounds great, until you actually try to buy a ticket this way. The website is a convoluted warren of FAQs, registration details, dates etc., but no obvious way in which to buy tickets. Having scoured the page for over half an hour I had to give up!
Furthermore, if you are successful in navigating this labyrinth of deception, you will then find that the organisers deprive you of the full amount you paid for the ticket. You will discover that a “consignment fee” of 2% is deducted, before finding out that the “convenience store charge” of ¥217 is non-refundable. Granted, this may not cripple you financially (it’s about £1.50), but considering the demand for tickets, these will amount to hundreds of thousands of pounds for the organisers at the expense of the consumer.
Conversely, it takes just two minutes to purchase a ticket from one of the well-known secondary sites. Primary ticket sellers have been at pains to denigrate these secondary sellers for exploiting customers with their exuberant prices, claiming “real” fans would only buy from official sources. But at the time of writing, secondary sites including ViaGoGo and StubHub, are listing tickets for England’s impending semi-final clash with New Zealand for less than face value, so where’s the supposed exploitation?
The Rugby World Cup’s official website says that “[f]ans with tickets purchased through unofficial sources risk being denied entry”, and that to “ensure the once-in-a-lifetime experience of attending a Rugby World Cup match in Japan isn’t ruined by being refused venue entry, fans are reminded to purchase tickets exclusively through official Rugby World Cup 2019 sources”. Head of the tournament’s Organising Committee Akira Shimazu reminded us of his empathetic nature when he said it would “be absolutely heart breaking for any fan to be denied stadium entry due to an issue with tickets purchased through unofficial sources”. This is the same man that admitted to supporting the Japanese authorities in passing a law that sees the unofficial resale of tickets an offense punishable by up to a year in prison, or a ¥1 million (c. £7,100) fine! “We’ve been working closely in partnership with the Japanese authorities and welcome this new law… giving [them] a clear and strong framework in which to police this crime”.
Twitter has been awash with complaints from dismayed fans waxing over their futile attempts to get hold of tickets. Welshman @asubsetofdaves said “[e]motionally shattered. Stayed up all night to book @rugbyworldcup tickets for Japan, but [at] point of payment it threw me back into the queue, saying site was busy. In the system for 24 min: well under the required time to complete purchase. Position in queue now in the 100000s… Bedtime, I reckon. Tomorrow is anoth… oh wait, it’s today”.
Other horror stories came from Ireland, who were strong favourites to win all of their pool games and top their group, setting up a quarter final clash with South Africa. Yet their shock defeat to the hosts left thousands of fans stranded with tickets to the wrong knockout game. Their only option: the official resale website. It’s not clear how many were forced to buy new tickets through unofficial channels, nor how many were then subsequently denied entry to the ground, but the figures just don’t bare thinking about.
This year’s Rugby World Cup has been a huge success thus far, with exciting matches going down to the wire. We have two excellent semi-finals in store this weekend, neither of which will disappoint. The tournament has been a phenomenal vehicle with which to take rugby forward, growing the sport in an immeasurable way. But this has been overshadowed by the cloud of ‘official ticketing’, preventing thousands from watching their country take part. These measures are not driven by a desire to protect fans from the trotters of touts; they are driven by greed and profit. The corporate partnership with Mastercard rewards those that use its services, and the obstinate refusal to allow anyone but themselves to sell their tickets leads one to this conclusion.
The Rugby World Cup has failed to act in fans best interests. Sadly, this is all too symptomatic of the global ticketing industry today.