The Confederations Cup has drawn near-record South African TV viewers and packed stadiums at the most popular games, but gaps in the stands has prompted organisers to give away thousands of tickets.
The tournament kicked off amid concerns about slow tickets sales, with FIFA president Sepp Blatter criticising the local organisers for failing to fill the stands for the opening match on June 14.
Sales were especially soft for matches played by teams not well known to local fans, with some unfolding before half empty stands — most noticeable in the Spain-New Zealand game in Rustenburg, just two hours from Johannesburg.
The solution: give away the extra tickets.
Private companies and government agencies have purchased bulk batches to give away thousands of tickets.
Tickets had been specially priced to encourage locals to attend. At Wednesday’s semi-final when the United States bested Spain 2-0, the cheapest seats were 140 rands (17 dollars).
But in a country where 43 percent of the population live on less than two dollars a day, even that price is steep.
Moses Ntsizi, a janitor who earns 1,300 rands a month, lucked out by receiving a free ticket from his employer to see Wednesday’s match in Bloemfontein.
“My dream has come true. I can see Spain playing,” he said during the match. “I can see their method. They do not panic when they have the ball.”
Ntsizi says he regularly watches the Bloemfontein Celtics, but those tickets cost only 20 rands.
Others in the crowd said they received free tickets from the city government, but many have turned to TV parks where big screens have been set up to allow the public to watch the games for free.
“I did not have the money to go to the stadium. But I enjoy the big screen,” said 18-year-old orphan Diteboho Lefeta, who despite the cold weather came to a tent set up by the city to watch the game with others from his orphanage.
FIFA’s ticketing system drew criticism ahead of the June 14-28 tournament for focusing on online sales in a country where Internet access remains a luxury.
Tickets could also be bought from a bank, but getting to the branches also posed a problem due to the lack of public transportation.
The policy was later relaxed and ticketing kiosks were rolled out in the four host cities.
Organisers say they are happy overall, and television audiences for games that South Africa played in were near record size, according to FIFA.
The Bafana Bafana match against New Zealand on June 17 attracted over six million viewers, not counting fans at the TV parks or other public spaces, according to FIFA.
That’s lower than the 10 to 12 million Germans who watched their team play on TV when they hosted the last Confed Cup. But officials point out that Germany’s population is larger and almost every home has a television. Not all South Africans even have electricity.
“The figures compare well considering difference in population,” FIFA television broadcast director, Niklas Ericson told reporters.
Rich Mkhondo, spokesman for the organising committee, said South Africa had done its best to publicise the games and make them accessible to the public.
“The organisation of the tournament cannot be judged by a couple of games which did not attract maximum crowds. Attendance has been very impressive at most of the games,” said Mkhondo.
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