Scalping World Cup Tickets, Not An Easy Task

In World Cup play, it's down to two teams: Spain will take on the Netherlands for the title on Sunday. Tickets for that game will be hard to come by. FIFA, the organization that governs soccer, requires tickets be bought from one source FIFA.

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:

Okay, so the World Cup final is now set: Spain defeated Germany yesterday one to nothing and will play the Netherlands on Sunday. If you don't have one of 85,000 or so tickets to the game in Johannesburg, you are officially out of luck. The game's sold out. But what about unofficially? NPR's Mike Pesca takes us inside the World Cup scalping scene.

MIKE PESCA: FIFA decrees - and that's a very FIFA-ish verb - they decree that anyone who attends a match has to get their ticket from one source: FIFA. To quote section 4.2 of their general terms and conditions: "Ticket may only be purchased from FIFA, through FIFA or officially authorized agents of FIFA."

And it's not just FIFA saying that. Billy Downing, a South African national prosecutor, explains that FIFA rules are national laws.

Mr. BILLY DOWNING (South African National Prosecutor): The resale of FIFA tickets, you know, is illegal in terms of FIFA regulations, which have been made law in terms of the local country's obligations.

PESCA: Tell it to Seth Carr of Signal Hill, California.

Mr. SETH CARR: I have category three.

Unidentified Man: How many have you got?

Mr. CARR: I have just one.

PESCA: Before the USA versus Ghana match two weeks ago, Carr was standing outside the stadium in Rustenburg holding an extra ticket that was to go to his brother if his brother had, indeed, made the trip. Carr wasn't looking to make a profit, just to sell it for any price that wasn't insulting, because he'd have to sit next to the buyer. The problem was there were no buyers.

Mr. CARR: There's too many extra tickets. I mean, it's ridiculous. They've bought, you know, 200 rand for complimentary tickets or 150. So, you know, it's a losing proposition.

PESCA: Two hundred rand translates to less than $30, so it was no wonder why Carr's single ticket with a face value of $100 wouldn't sell. But at other matches, scalped tickets were much harder to come by.

Stadium location played a big role in the demand for tickets, but so did the nationality of the ticket seller. Americans tended not to care or even know that scalping was illegal, because in many places in the USA, police tend to look the other way - in South Africa, too, though not always, such as a match between Cameroon and Denmark, when even a seasoned journalist was detained.

STEFAN FATSIS: The guy handed me the tickets. I had not given him any money. And somebody grabbed by arm and says: You're going to be arrested and deported for buying stolen tickets.

PESCA: Yes. NPR contributor Stefan Fatsis was dragged away by the police, though he hadn't made a purchase and though the tickets turned out not to have been stolen, which is why the police wound up not charging him.

FATSIS: And he said since you haven't paid any money, I'm going to let you go. And then he became really jolly and talkative and said, hey, you still going to try to get into the game tonight?

PESCA: While Stefan is a bit daring, he's not totally stupid. The answer was no.

But that game - which was a sellout and for which no tickets were legally available for purchase - featured rows and rows of empty seats. In their zeal to clamp down on illegal resale, FIFA has excluded hundreds - in some matches, thousands - of potential customers.

Yesterday, FIFA announced total sales had surpassed three million, which a spokesman called a resounding success. But those three million spectators were at venues that, if full, would've held 3.42 million.

Overall, this tournament might not do better than the 88 percent of capacity figure where they are now. That's because in addition to the final game, which is a sought-after ticket, FIFA also stages a consolation match, and plenty of good seats are available for legal purchase online. Or ask around. You just might find you know a guy.

Mike Pesca, NPR News.

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KELLY: This is NPR News.

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