About 18 months ago I wrote this. While going to the World Cup in Brazil was indeed something I was determined to do, writing that piece was one of those things you do to force the issue. Publicly saying you’re going to do something tends to add more resolve to the effort and drives you forward through doubts and obstacles.
Regardless of whether it was a catalyst that made it happen or not, I’m going. There will be three of us going. Myself, Colin Elmes and Markus F who both Colin and I played with at UBC and Westside FC. What’s really cemented it is the incredible luck we’ve had in getting tickets so far
For me, researching a trip like this is a pleasure. I want it to go right given it’s really a trip of a lifetime for me so I threw myself into the ticketing procedure as well as flight and accommodation details. It’s been pretty cool and we’ve been very lucky in regards to tickets so far.
There’s four aspects to the trip: getting tickets for games, flights to Brazil, accommodation once you’re there and internal travel between host cities. At this point, it’s two down and two to go.
As would be expected the biggest concern around going to a World Cup is your ability to get tickets. There had been an opportunity to get FIFA Hospitality packages about a year ago on a first come, first serve basis. You could get first crack at tickets if you were prepared to plop down a minimum $1900 for three first round games. At the time, when we really thought we’d be having to procure tickets in the secondary market (scalpers) in Brazil, it was tempting to plop the big bucks down in advance knowing at least we had legit tickets in hand and that they would be Category 1 tickets that gave us access to a FIFA Hospitality bar inside the stadium and a separate entrance. Problem was you had to order a minimum of four tickets for each game you wanted and our numbers didn’t match up well with that. We passed on the chance to put tickets for all three of Spain’s first round games in our pockets for just under $2000. Most of those packages eventually sold out including the one that topped out at something like $1.2 million for private suites for up to around 30 people for all the games that you’d go to if money were no object.
When we passed on the Hospitality packages it was time to focus on the distribution system for the great unwashed. There are five parts to this system. The first two have now finished and, obviously, preceded the actual draw. If you were willing to select games that simply gave you a fixture date and location along with “B1 v B3” (#1 seed in what will be Group B vs the team drawn from Pot 3 into Group B) you could enter the lottery phase that began in August and ended in October. Each person could request up to four tickets for each of up to seven games and for each one you had to list who would be getting any other tickets on your order and include their passport number. This is FIFA’s attempt to limit the secondary market and reduce scalping. Does it work? Apparently not from what I’ve read online. While your tickets arrive with your name and passport number on them, there’s never been anyone checking ID at the gates (can you imagine the lineups?) so there’s rampant buying, selling and exchanging of tickets from accounts by people who have been to previous World Cups where this has been in place.
The other consideration was that you could not have multiple requests for the same game. If I put in for a game with Colin and Markus on the application and Colin did the same with my name and Markus on the request, it would be thrown out.
So we plotted a strategy that tried to tread the line between seeing top seeded teams and avoiding the highest demand games. Obviously the highest demand games were in the knockout stages but even the first round games in Rio and Sao Paolo were listed as high demand on the ticketing portion of the FIFA website.
With the ability to request tickets to 21 games we focused primarily of first round games in Fortaleza, Rio and Sao Paolo along with the semis and the final. We hoped we’d get 1 or 2 games but knew that even if we got nothing there was still the ‘first come, first serve’ portion of this phase that would follow on about a week after they’d notified all the lottery winners. After that the entire process would roll out again once the draw had been made and now people could ask for tickets knowing who was actually going to be playing. The last phase is essentially a garage sale slated for April for anything that was left.
As the date for notifying lottery winners drew near FIFA put out an email announcing the draw was being delayed for about a week. So a few days later, still in advance of when the draw was supposed to start I was surprised to get a call from VISA saying there’d been some unusual activity of my account and they needed me to verify some transactions.
The first one was “$2100 FIFA, Zurich, Switzerland”. I actually started laughing and interrupted the guy to say, “That one’s good. Let that one through!” It had actually just been an authorization so I had to wait another week while the rest of the lottery was conducted (an audited affair held in Manchester). Turns out I got filled on the first day for four first round games. All Category 1 tickets ($175 each). Colin and Markus called their banks and told them to let anything from FIFA be processed as stories started coming out about banks declining authorization requests thinking it was a scam. It looked like we were only (!) going to get those four games until the last day when Markus got filled for one game in Belo Horizonte. We were grinning for days, boring anyone who’d listen about how we’d ended up with tickets for five games; three in Fortaleza, one in Salvador and one in Belo Horizonte.
FIFA then put everyone on notice that a small number of tickets from this allotment were still available and the first come, first serve (FCFS) portion of the phase would start at 9am Brasilia time on November 11. That’s 3am PST. Again, we plotted and with very little info as to how a global FCFS would look, came up with an approach and targeted games that made sense for what we wanted and what we already had.
3am came and we checked in with each other by text. Well, two of us did. Colin was noticeably quiet I recall. Upon logging in to your FIFA account at 3am you were greeted with a screen that said you were in a “virtual queue” and an alarm would go off to notify you if you had been accepted into the ticketing area. I half thought this was FIFA covering up the fact that their servers had crashed under the demand. I was looking at a full day of coaching at a Remembrance Day tournament followed by a club Board meeting in the evening so I was really only prepared to wait 15-20 minutes. Five minutes later though my computer made a funny ‘alert’ noise and I was in. “I’m in!” I texted. “Windup” was the disbelieving reply. It was akin to waiting outside a store in the middle of the night and being let in not knowing if there’s anything on the shelves and if what there is on the shelves is any use to you. A quick scroll through the menu though and it was apparent there was lots of worthwhile games left. What they didn’t tell you was that as soon as you selected any game and put it in your ‘shopping cart’, a countdown started that gave you ten minutes to complete the transaction. Now I was on a clock and had to move. I grabbed two games and went to check out fearing that if I went for my seventh and last game I’d time out and may get kicked out the store. I thought I’d picked a 2nd round game and a quarter final, both in Brasilia. I’m actually all but positive that’s what I had as they were clearly labelled. It was only days later I realized that I’d been billed for the second round game but only a Brasilia first round game. No sign of the quarter final. I’ve no idea if I completely misread the screen or if it was coded wrong and billed me for the first round game while displaying a quarter final. Their site was clearly under massive strain. My first attempt to pay did not go through (several others reported this among other problems) but in the end I got those two games and it very surprisingly let me stay in the store rather that booting me out and letting someone else in. I grabbed another first round game in Salvador with a top seed playing. I’d hit my max and was done. Markus never did get in and Colin finally did at 6am and grabbed all that was left that made sense: one more first round game.
So that’s left us sitting on tickets for nine games. Stunned. And still more rounds of ticket purchasing to come. We have requests in for the remaining phases as Colin and Markus still have six spots left on their FIFA dance card.
The exciting part was then watching the draw. Colin and I watched it in a soccer friendly coffee shop in Richmond. Amidst seniors moaning about none of the TV’s showing any curling we waited to see which games we had tickets for. When Spain was drawn into Group B, I pretty much didn’t care what other games we got. We have a game for the Group B #1 seed so I knew I was going to get to see the team I most wanted to see. When it came down to that game being either against Holland or Australia we did hold our breath though. When Holland was announced we burst out laughing and yelling. That game was the last one I grabbed in the middle of the night in the FCFS. None of this made sense to the curling fans nursing coffees waiting for whatever it was we were watching to be over.
In the end we got some doozies and some blah games:
Hard to complain. We’re going to dump the Uruguay v Costa Rica, Belgium v Algeria and Iran v Bosnia games because it just makes it way more logistically do-able. That leaves us with two games in Salvador (Spain v Holland and Germany v Portugal) then two in Fortaleza (Germany v Ghana and Ivory Coast v Greece) and then two in Brasilia (Portugal v Ghana and a second round game featuring the 2nd place team in the Argentina/Nigeria/Bosnia/Iran group v 1st in the Swiss/France/Ecuador/Honduras group). We won’t be at all disappointed to see the Argies stumble in the round robin and place second.
The next task was flights. Fortunately the three of us all have enough RBC Avion points to cover the cost. It was just about getting in and out on the dates we needed. I really can’t say enough about how helpful the booking agents at Avion were. I spent two 30+ minute calls with them and in the end got into Sao Paolo the day it call kicks off with Brazil v Croatia (we’ll go to to the stadium and see how much tickets are going for) and directly out from Brasilia right after our second round game. All within Avion’s pricing allowances for flights to South America and with minimal taxes. Still, it’ll be three flights to get there and three more to get back. Plus three flights between cities in Brazil.
Now we deal with Brazil directly…internal flights and accommodation. The early quotes on accommodations ranged from suspiciously low to laughable. A hotel (granted it was 5*) in Brasilia wanting $4000/night for a basic room that only slept two and another $4000/night to sleep the third. Several on airbnb.com that wanted $800-$1000 night for small, dated one bedroom apartments. Fortunately there are more reasonable folks out there willing to settle for simply massive markups as opposed to incredulous ones. We hope to finalize bookings in a week or so once our three internal flights are booked.
We’re just getting over the numbness from the luck of the number of tickets we picked up and then the quality of the matches. Still lots to plan but so far, so very, very good. And only 128 days to go.