Organisers need to show flexibility April 1, 2007

World Cup problems ...

A rare full house watched West Indies lose to Sri Lanka ... but elsewhere grounds have been far emptier © AFP
The rash of empty seats has been an embarrassment, especially at the Sir Vivian Richards ground for the opening Super Eight clash between the West Indies and Australia. Tickets, it was stated, had all been sold when they clearly hadn't.

My understanding is that sponsors and travel agents, mostly out of India, have either not taken up or returned their ticket allotments and that there was not enough time to properly market their availability locally.

Even so, high prices, not only for entry but also for food and beverage at the concession stands, are an obvious deterrent for fans not interested in following neutral matches.

As was evident with the three-way tournament involving Pakistan and Zimbabwe in the Caribbean a few years back, West Indians are not drawn to such contests, no matter what is charged. The same obtains everywhere. It is a reason why England have abandoned their triangular One-day series and Australia are about to do the same.

In the ICC Champions Trophy in India last October, where there were similar complaints about prices, only matches involving India attracted sell-out crowds. Even the final, between Australia and the West Indies, was shunned. Gate receipts and charges to concessionaires go to the governments, which have bankrolled the new stands and other affiliated work, and to the local organising committees (LOCs) that have prepared the way.

It is their one source of revenue and they are understandably intent on maximising the returns on their considerable investments. But they need to adjust to changing circumstances and try to fill as many of the empty seats as they can by lowering the price of admission.

The example of the January sales that cut prices on unsold Christmas stock and airlines that adopt the same principle by offering last-minute cut fares refute the claim that such a move is unfair on those who purchased originally.

Public ire has been especially aroused by the stipulation that offers no pass-out vouchers. It means that once the punter has left the ground, there is no way of getting back in unless through the understanding of some sympathetic official-and that's an oxymoron.

Once they hold a ticket, West Indians are accustomed of being able to come and go as they please, to attend a meeting, to take in the lunch hour from the office, to pick up the kids. At this World Cup, they are under virtual house arrest once they are in the ground. Those who turned up early yesterday morning at the Viv Richards ground had to wait five hours before play got going. Had they left, there was no way back.