Locals snap up World Cup tickets
Tournament opener between South Africa, Mexico to draw 94,700
The man in the yellow and green uniform raised his arms in jubilation, as if he had just scored a goal for his beloved South African national team.
"We are now finished! We got our tickets! Everything is sorted out," exulted Aden Lahood, displaying his prized purchase of World Cup tournament seats.
He was one of about 700 people who had mobbed a building in suburban Johannesburg during a frustrating, chaotic day of long lines and computer crashes Friday as a total of 160,000 tickets, including those for the semifinal and final games, went on sale in South Africa two weeks before the start of the World Cup.
For thousands of South Africans, the wait has been long but worth it.
Despite the computer glitches and some marketing flaws, World Cup organizers are likely to sell almost all the tickets for the tournament, thanks in large part to local fans.
FIFA, the World Cup's governing body, said there was a "massive response" from buyers, and by 5 p.m. Friday, nearly 60,000 tickets had been sold. Seats were no longer available for several matches, including all three of the preliminary round games involving South Africa's team and the July 11 final.
Thousands of people had spent a night in line — some were queued up since Wednesday — in ticket centres in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Soweto.
In the upscale northern Johannesburg suburb of Sandton, there was pushing and shoving in the line, and police tried to keep order. One official got on a bullhorn and threatened to keep the ticket centre closed unless people maintained order in the line that stretched 40-50 yards (metres) down the sidewalk.
FIFA officials added to the frustration when they announced to the crowd that the computer system had crashed.
"Apparently, everyone is logging on at the same time. It must be an international thing, worldwide," Lahood said. "But we've been through it, it's done now, everything is sorted, I'm happy."
Fans issued apology
FIFA issued a statement confirming "significant delays" and apologized to fans for the "regrettable situation."
Chilly weather in Cape Town may have been responsible for only a few hundred subdued fans lining up there. In the township of Soweto, about 1,000 people lined up, with some minor pushing and shoving.
FIFA has made huge strides since the final phase of ticket sales began on April 15. Before then, a half-million tickets were unsold, and World Cup officials were on the brink of a PR disaster.
Empty seats would tell a global TV audience of billions that the tournament has not been a success.
An extra 90,000 tickets that had been returned by FIFA and its various sponsors to South African organizers were part of the 160,000 on sale Friday. Danny Jordaan, head of South Africa's organizing committee, called it "the last big inventory available for the public."
South Africa has used the slogan "Once in a Lifetime" to excite its own fans that the World Cup had finally come to their continent for the first time, and they have responded by buying more than 1.3 million tickets. FIFA said it has sold more than 96 per cent of the total 2.88 million tickets available, and will match the 97 per cent sales mark for the last World Cup in Germany.
The June 11 opening match between South Africa and Mexico at Johannesburg's central Soccer City stadium, is a confirmed sellout of 94,700.
Seats in all different price ranges were on sale — from about $20 for early round games, the lowest priced tickets which can only be purchased by South Africans, up to $600 for a semifinal game and $900 for the final.
FIFA had faced some criticism for charging the high prices in some categories, well beyond the reach of ordinary South Africans. And it has also only sold a disappointing 40,000 tickets on the rest of the continent, after asking African fans outside the host country to pay the same prices as the rest of the world.
"If you're making it Africa's World Cup, you make sure you have a significant representation of African fans at the games," said Pat Rishe, an associate professor of economics at Webster University in St. Louis and a director of the consulting firm Sportsimpacts.net.
Top-priced tickets remain
Most of the unsold tickets are in the most expensive of the four pricing categories at the World Cup.
"I am desperately trying to get tickets for the semifinals and final and also the opening game," said 18-year-old Daniel Shalem. "I am really hoping to squeeze in there."
"The quantity of tickets I want," Shalem said, "doesn't allow for me to buy category one tickets. It would be far too expensive."
The latest projections say only 360,000 foreign fans are to visit South Africa, down from the 450,000 originally predicted, but there may be hope for those remaining high-end tickets, too.
"After the initial surge when the draw was announced in December, we've seen more interest in flights and hotels," said Danny Talbot of the sports division of Thomas Cook travel in Britain.
"The ever-increasing confidence in England being successful in their group means that we're now seeing fans requesting trips that give them the best chance of seeing the team in the latter stages" of the tournament, he said.
The U.S. leads the way with more than 130,000 tickets sold to date.
A late surge from the traditionally strong European market could result in a complete sellout, unthinkable a month ago.
FIFA figures if it sold 430,000 tickets in the six weeks since April 15, and almost 60,000 in a day, two weeks could be enough to sell the final 100,000 tickets.