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Hours before the start of the World Cup match between India and Australia in Chennai on October 8, several Indian fans posted on social media about tickets still being available on BookMyShow, the official ticketing partner. The fans seemed surprised and frustrated because many of their previous attempts to book tickets online had been unsuccessful. A lucky few managed last-minute seats, but for many others who were either not aware or were unable to take advantage at short notice, the question was: why and how was this game declared a sell-out earlier?
Three days before that, the World Cup had opened to vast swathes of empty seats at the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad, where England took on New Zealand in a remake of the previous edition's blockbuster final. That led to questions on why there were so many empty seats even when a majority of the stands showed "sold out" on BookMyShow on the morning of the game.
To add to the confusion, the day before, a report in the Indian Express had quoted a local politician as saying that around 30,000-40,000 women were being handed free tickets along with refreshments for the World Cup opener. The politician was quoted as saying that the move was inspired by the Indian parliament having approved the Women's Reservation Bill, which will ensure 33% of politicians at the central and state governments will be women.
The immediate question was: how could such a vast number of tickets be handed out? And who owned these tickets when a user could book only a maximum of two tickets for India matches and four for non-India matches on BookMyShow?
The ticketing process for the World Cup was delayed inordinately because of the unprecedented delay in releasing the schedule, which was first announced on June 27 and then modified again on August 9. Fans, especially the ones travelling to games, were left in the lurch as a result. And the opaqueness behind the process only exacerbated the situation.
ESPNcricinfo has made several attempts to seek out answers from the ICC, the owner of the event, and the BCCI, which is managing the event including the ticketing process, but none have been forthcoming. These were the key questions posed, and we have tried to answer them ourselves from what we have managed to gather.
What has been the process of putting tickets online? What percentage of tickets have been put online at each venue?
ESPNcricinfo has learned that the BCCI told the state associations hosting World Cup matches that each venue would need to set aside complimentary tickets meant for sponsors/commercial partners/guests of both the ICC and the Indian board. Separately, the BCCI requested that states release as many tickets as possible meant otherwise for the member clubs/affiliated units/sponsors/former cricketers/life members/police/local government officials, which usually consumes a significant chunk of tickets for both international and IPL matches.
According to Sportstar, Eden Gardens, which has a capacity of 65,000, released only 32,000 tickets per game for sale to the general public for World Cup matches. At Chepauk, which has a capacity of about 37,000, only one-third - 13,000 - tickets were released for sale. In the case of Ahmedabad, that figure for general public climbs to about 100,000 tickets.
How many phases are there for ticket sales? What is the window for each phase?
It was only on August 23, 42 days before the World Cup's start, that the BCCI announced bringing BookMyShow on board. Rather than putting tickets on sale for the entire tournament at one go, which could have crashed BookMyShow, the BCCI said that tickets would be released "in a series of carefully managed phases".
The general public could buy tickets for non-India matches, including warm-ups, on August 25. For India matches, including the two warm-ups (both were eventually washed out), tickets were spread across a five-day window from August 31 to September 3. Finally, September 15 was slotted for the sale of tickets for the semi-finals and final.
On paper, such a plan looked streamlined, but fans took to social media to illustrate the chaos. As the BCCI suspected, the BookMyShow website crashed on first day of ticket sales, after which a queueing system was introduced.
For multiple users, in instances where it showed tickets were still "available", the app threw up an error screen when they tried to select seats.
And the issues were not restricted to India matches. Even for non-India matches, initially, most of the tickets were shown to be "sold out".
A lot of fans who were trying to buy tickets ahead of the tournament have complained on social media that they invariably encountered the "sold out" message. But tickets became available for many of those matches - especially non-India games - later. Why did this happen?
As fans took to social media to vent their frustration, on September 6, the BCCI announced it was releasing a further 400,000 tickets approximately. Where did these tickets materialise from? That question was raised again on October 8, when the BCCI announced it was releasing a further 14,000 tickets for the India-Pakistan match in Ahmedabad on October 14.
The BCCI had originally set aside September 3 exclusively for fans to buy tickets for the marquee contest. It's still not clear how many tickets were put on sale overall that day for the game in Ahmedabad, home to cricket's largest stadium. Then there was the announcement on October 8 and again, on October 11, three days prior to the India-Pakistan contest, the BCCI put out a post on X saying tickets for India's next two matches - against Pakistan and Bangladesh (on October 19 in Pune) - were going to be on sale that evening.
Asked about these other tickets, the BCCI told ESPNcricinfo: "[They are from a] limited inventory which was earmarked earlier for various stakeholders as part of contractual obligations and commitments under 'Option to Buy'. The tickets which were not picked up are being released".
No numbers were divulged, though.
As of writing this, the India-Pakistan match shows "sold out" on BookMyShow. But then again, who knows.