As the 1994 edition of the planet's most popular sporting event kicks off today in Chicago and Dallas, about 100,000 tickets remain for matches up to and including the championship final at the Rose Bowl July 17, World Cup '94 officials say.
The unusual availability of over-the-counter tickets at this late date, particularly for the finals, may reflect a lingering apathy to the international soccer tournament among native-born Americans, who are serving as first-time hosts. But some also cite the high price of the tickets, several lackluster early-round matchups and the organizing committee's apparent inefficiency and Byzantine ticket sales system.
World Cup officials, who have been hit with thousands of complaints regarding ticketing snafus, insist that their operation is proceeding smoothly and that by game time virtually all seats across the nation will be filled.
To purchase remaining seats for the final game directly from the tournament's organizers, World Cup '94, fans must also buy tickets for semifinal and third-place games at the Rose Bowl. The packages of three tickets go for $1,250 to $2,500--about three times the face value of individual tickets to the three games that had been offered by the Century City-based organizers in limited supplies last year.
"$1,750? Who the hell is going to pay that in Los Angeles when we are recovering from earthquakes, riots and a bad economy?" said Fred Ross, co-owner of Front Row Center Tickets in Westwood. "They're engaged in legalized scalping."
Moreover, those springing for the "Premier Ticket" packages are supplied no information on the specific location of their seats until the tickets arrive at their homes by overnight mail. Last week, a class-action lawsuit was filed in Chicago on behalf of irate ticket-holders who claim that after paying for top-end tickets, they received seats at the far corners of Soldier Field.
World Cup officials said Thursday that there were still several hundred tickets remaining at Ticketmaster outlets for most early-round games at nine venues across the nation, including Saturday's opening game at the Rose Bowl between Romania and Colombia.
Larger face-value supplies are available for six games, including Sunday's Cameroon-Sweden contest at the Rose Bowl, the Russia-Cameroon game in Palo Alto June 28 and two early-round games in Dallas and Detroit.
Meanwhile, ticket brokers and individual speculators are reporting a relatively soft market for seats for many of the 52 games.
"I wouldn't exactly say there's a glut of tickets, but there are definitely some extra seats," said Ken Solby, owner of Designer Tickets & Tours, a Sherman Oaks broker.
Sergio Torrico, a San Fernando Valley travel agent, said his firm alone has 50 tickets left for Sunday's Cameroon-Sweden game that were ordered last year before it was known what the team matchups would be. With sales slow, Torrico has gone so far as to call the Swedish Consulate for advice, but he has still been unable to locate takers. "We've been selling those tickets with only a $5 profit, which is unbelievable," he said. "But there's just no interest."
World Cup officials had previously announced sellouts of all but 14 of the 52 games. But ticketing director Marla P. Messing said that several hundred tickets have became available through organizers for most of the contests at the Rose Bowl and other sites in recent days because of "checks that bounced . . . and tickets returned at the last minute."
"In a 99,000-seat stadium, that's not very many," Messing said of the Rose Bowl, whose soccer capacity is actually 91,794.
"Traditionally, World Cup games are sold out, but they've never had as many tickets--3.5 million--as we've had this year," Messing said. "The record holder until now was Italy in 1990, I believe, and I believe they had a million fewer tickets to sell."
Calls to Ticketmaster Thursday showed $75 tickets were available for Saturday's Colombia-Romania contest at the Rose Bowl. For Sunday's game, $45 and $65 seats were for sale at face value (plus Ticketmaster's service charges of $3.50 and up per ticket).
A few early contests, most notably Italy versus Ireland at Giants Stadium in New Jersey, are particularly hot tickets, with widespread scalping anticipated.
Messing refused to specify the number of tickets still available from the organizing committee for the finals in Pasadena. But she acknowledged that there are more Premier packages still unsold than the several hundred tickets now available for most early-round games.
"It's a different market," Messing said. "You're talking the difference between a $40 ticket and $2,500--but we're confident they'll all sell."