Sunday, April 01, 2007

Clippings: A World Cup in search of spectators....

ST JOHN'S, Antigua, March 31 (Reuters)
Organisers of cricket's showpiece eventat one of the world's dream tourist destinations are facing empty seats inside stadiums and poor business with vacant hotel rooms outside them.
The seven-week Cricket World Cup in the West Indies was promoted as a perfect sports tourism package, with sun-drenched beaches and the chance to watch the sport's elitecontest its biggest one-day prize.However, organisers and the tourism industryfor the eight Caribbean nations staging World Cup matches are bitter after afraction of the tens of thousands of fans expected actually took up theexpensive trip.
Last week's shock first-round elimination of India, the teamwith the biggest fan base, has sent panic waves across the region with the multi-million dollar businesses around it scrambling to cut losses.
Cricket-mad India, the game's commercial hub providing most of the major sponsors for the event whose players earn a fortune in endorsements, were stunned after defeatagainst unheralded Bangladesh eliminated them.
"It is like Brazil going out inthe first round of a soccer World Cup," Chris Dehring, managing director and CEOof the tournament, told Reuters.
"There is virtually no substitute when a teamlike India goes out in terms of a travelling contingent," he said outside thebrand new Sir Vivian Richards Stadium in Antigua.
West Indies' struggle for formis not helping either -- they have now lost heavily to Australia and New Zealandand face a real battle to qualify for the semi-finals. Dehring said the poor faninterest was unlikely to have a major financial impact because sponsorship hadbeen secured and the majority of tickets pre-sold.
However, he admitted thesituation was causing concern for an event which had been estimated to make aprofit of around $240 million.
The inaugural World Cup inWest Indies, who won the first two editions in 1975 and 1979, was expected to bethe cricket fan's ultimate spectacle.Local governments were persuaded to buildnew stadiums and hotels with funding from foreign government and hoteliers wereasked to be ready for the extra visitors during the peak holiday season leadingup to Easter.Some even evicted their tenants before ramping up their tariffs,but their hopes of making quick money has been dashed, leaving everyone fromhotel owners to cab drivers frustrated.
The fans have partly been kept away dueto high entrance prices -- tickets for Super Eights are priced between U.S.$25and $100 -- and regulations barring music bands which generate a carnivalatmosphere at West Indies grounds.Neil Forrester, general manager of theAntigua Hotel and Tourist Association, said the whole concept had been flawedfrom the beginning."This is the busiest season in the Caribbean but hotelsdon't seem to be busy," he told Reuters. "Every island is complaining.
"Hebelieves organisers were wide of the mark about fans, particularly after manywell heeled Indian expatriates cancelled their bookings following India's elimination."Overall this is an expensive destination which is not ideal forthis type of event," Forrester said.
He said many Australian fans had beenasking for $100 per night lodgings when even smaller hotels in Antigua chargedbetween U.S. $200-300.The situation contrasts with major events in other partsof the world which budget tourists can afford to attend.
All involved in the event were unanimous that India's exit was bad for business.Four years ago, avid Indian fans who made last-ditch plans to attend the WorldCup final versus eventual winners Australia in South Africa, purchased England'sdark blue colours after India's own light blue variant were sold out.This timemerchandise outlets heavily stocked with Indian team clothing were wringingtheir hands in despair."Giveaway, what else?" said a sales girl at the Trinidad airport as she surveyed her shop.Dejected Indian fans were also selling theirmatch tickets on the e-Bay web site.
Dehring said many other factors had led tothe situation.Ticket prices were high because regional governments wanted torecover the large sums spent on infrastructure.Unlike bilateral series, matchesare shown live on local TV which acts as a disincentive to attend them.Some ofthe best seats in the stadiums were also empty because sponsors, many of themIndian companies, had purchased tickets in advance but now had no takers.
Dehring hoped the fans of champions Australia and the English would help savethe situation in the end.
"We are in discussion with the governments and will belooking at incentives from a marketing perspective for some matches," he said.
It was unrealistic to expect a packed stadium every time, though, he stressed.
"Bangladesh versus Ireland, you can't expect too many. That is due to the vagary of sport."

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