A week ahead of Saturday’s much-anticipated India-Pakistan clash at Ahmedabad’s Narendra Modi Stadium, the BCCI abruptly announced the release of another 14,000 tickets for sale.
The BCCI had originally set September 3 as the date for fans to buy tickets for the big-bill tie. The announcement took everyone by surprise, leading to speculation that hosts BCCI were colluding with the ICC, the owners of the event, to mislead the public on the exact number of tickets put up for sale.
The BCCI has been selling tickets through online portal bookmyshow.com. The portal showed “sold out” for all India games and a few non-India fixtures, tickets for which had been released, leading to the confusion. Most grounds reflected a very different reality — the stands, meant to have been “sold out”, revealed chunks of empty seating, often only sparse crowds.
What had happened? Where had all the tickets gone? Spectator access to cricket’s greatest show on earth, currently unfolding at multiple locations across India, has been snagged by a combination of inept planning, concessions to corporate demands, poor outsourcing, hoarding and bungled public messaging.
Simply put, tickets to the games, especially critical match-ups, have been tough to find and very often exorbitant to obtain for cricket fans.
While none from the BCCI was willing to go on record, an ICC spokesperson told The Telegraph: “We wouldn’t provide comment at this stage of the event.”
However, a close examination of the process showed that a bulk of the tickets available for each match at every venue had been earmarked for the sponsors, commercial
partners and guests of both the ICC and the BCCI. This included seats in the corporate boxes and the galleries.
The remaining tickets were then made available to the state associations, which decided on the percentage to be put up for sale in consultation with the BCCI.
Only a small number of the tickets were finally made available for sale, leading to the scarcity. The smaller the stadium, the lesser the quantity of tickets for the common man.
The increased demand from the sponsors and commercial partners also led to a significant reduction in the numbers generally allotted to the state association's members, clubs, affiliated units, police, bureaucrats and ministers.
This has significantly affected the Cricket Association of Bengal's quota of tickets earmarked for its members and clubs. All other associations have been affected too.
"All hosting associations have to follow the guidelines issued by the BCCI with respect to its agreement with the ICC. The ICC takes a call on the number of tickets it needs for its various partners. The BCCI also comes up with its demands," an official, who didn't wish to be identified, said.
"The ICC is like the IPL franchise owners in these tournaments. They own the tickets and decide on the numbers they need to meet their own commitments," the official said.
So how were tickets suddenly made available for the India-Pakistan clash or other matches that had previously been reported as "sold out"? Herein lies the catch.
The ICC and the BCCI are committed to various stakeholders as part of their contractual obligations to supply a fixed quota of tickets. But sometimes such tickets are not completely used up, leading to an excess in inventory. These are then made available on the online portal for public sale.
Similar is the case with the empty seats at stadiums even when the portal shows "sold out". The commercial partners may not have found enough takers or means to utilise their quota. This leads to vacant seats since there is no time or means to return tickets to the BCCI or the ICC for public consumption.
Neither the ICC nor the BCCI is willing to disclose the number of tickets left to the associations to meet their own demands, but it is understood that close to 50 per cent of the tickets are meant for the ICC and its partners.
Obviously, for a stadium like the one at Motera where the capacity is more than 1.20 lakh, the number of tickets available for the fans is bigger compared with other centres.
Even so, diehard fans of Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma who were unable to book tickets through the official online booking channel need not fret. There is supposedly an “unofficial online alternative” where tickets are available, although at a premium.
India is set to play Bangladesh on Thursday, October 19, at Pune. Bookmyshow.com shows no tickets available, the game is “sold out”. While through the official channel, tickets prices start at Rs 1,200, the base price on viagogo.com (a website that sells resale tickets) is upwards of Rs 5,000.
How about India’s match against the in-form South Africa at the Eden Gardens, Calcutta, on November 5? Bookmyshow is yet to start booking and is showing "coming soon" on its website for this game. While the official ticket prices are expected to start from Rs 900 onwards, tickets for the match are already available at viagogo.com, starting from Rs 10,943 and going all the way up to Rs 37,551 for the K-Block at the time of writing this report. With classic demand-supply economics at play, the prices will in all probability go up as the game draws closer.
How viagogo.com is able to sell tickets before the official online ticket partner opens its bookings remains a mystery. According to the company’s website, viagogo.com is the world’s largest secondary marketplace for tickets to live events. It aims to provide ticket buyers with the widest possible choice of tickets to events around the world and helps ticket sellers, ranging from individuals with a spare ticket to large multi-national event organisers reaching a global audience.
The company’s website shows it is registered at Delaware, US, and a domain check run by this newspaper using whois.com showed that the website domain was registered in Geneva. The reviews available on various online platforms are a mixed bag, ranging from allegedly scammed to satisfied ticket buyers.
According to the FAQ available at bookmyshow.com, tickets may only be purchased online via the official ticket sales website accessible through https://tickets.cricketworldcup.com
The sales portal says it will operate on a first come, first served basis and a queuing system will be in operation during times of high traffic. Whilst in the queue, the FAQ advises prospective buyers to not navigate away from the holding page or click refresh or back on the browser as this will lose them their place in the queue.
Among other disclaimers, the portal instructs buyers to be alert as dropping off the queue will make the buyer lose their place in the line. It also emphasises that waiting in queue does not guarantee successful booking.
A mail sent to bookmyshow asking it to elaborate on the ticket buying process, the success rates and the frequency of queue dropouts is yet to elicit a response.
The trend of empty stands across games has become the subject of sharp banter among the game’s marquee watchers.
Former England captain Michael Vaughn wondered on X recently why the India game in Delhi against Afghanistan had so many empty seats.
“Are u watching the game or empty seats?” came a riposte from former spin ace and television commentator Harbhajan Singh.