FAI fills the best seats at 25pc of 'new' price
No guarantee Lansdowne fans will renew at premium cost
MOST of the Football Association of Ireland's top-priced Aviva Stadium seats are occupied by fans and clients who paid less than a quarter of their current value, an Irish Independent investigation has revealed.
Tickets for these premium seats cost €3,200 a year. However, the majority have been allocated to customers who paid up to €750 a year for seats in the old Lansdowne Road stadium.
And the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) has no official guarantee that these customers will renew their tickets at more than four times the cost when their current deals run out.
This questions the FAI's assertion that they are satisfied with the pricing structure for premium seats.
FAI chief executive John Delaney has again refused to answer key questions about the controversial 'Vantage Club' scheme to sell premium stadium tickets. In a statement yesterday, the FAI failed to provide the actual level of sales figures since the project began in September 2008.
Instead, it maintained the position outlined by Mr Delaney at the association's recent AGM, where he insisted that sales "including sponsorship commitments" had surpassed 6,300.
Mr Delaney has refused to provide a distinction between "commitments" and actual sales. He has also neglected to outline how many of the packages have been sold at full price.
Documents seen by this newspaper reveal that holders of 939 10-year tickets carried over from the old stadium were given the choice to sit wherever they wanted at premium level in the new €411m stadium.
These fans and clients, including two of the country's bailed-out banks, had bought their tickets for up to €7,500 in either 2004 or 2006. The holders of 753 of these opted for the best seats in the venue, which are priced at €32,000 over 10 years for new customers.
These customers do not have to decide whether to renew their tickets until 2014 or 2016.
Mr Delaney has defended the prices for the 'Vantage Club' package on the basis that most of the high-end seats are filled.
But while more 'Vantage 1' seats are allocated than the other three categories available, almost 90pc of these have gone to customers who did not buy the tickets at that price.
The customers have also given no official guarantee that they intend to renew the seats when their current deals expire.
If the existing 10-year ticket holders do take up the full value of the seats they currently occupy, it will be worth more than €14m to the association between 2014 and 2020, according to the FAI's projections.
However, it has no certainty that these customers will opt to buy tickets that are four times the cost of what they originally paid in a pre-recession market.
Yesterday, the Irish Independent revealed that when ISG, the firm signed up to sell the premium tickets, wound down its arrangement last month, the FAI had failed to sell even a third of the 10,400 seats.
Just 4,077 seats had been allocated. This includes the 939 existing tickets, in addition to cancelled tickets that remained in the system and direct debits where customers chose not to send back the form so that the payments could be activated.
At the start of the project, Mr Delaney said the sale of just over 6,000 tickets represented the break-even point.
Last month, he acknowledged that the 939 tickets attributed to existing members were included in the FAI's sales figures. He said he was confident that these clients would "probably" renew when their current arrangement comes to an end.
The premium-level tickets for the Aviva Stadium were divided into four categories. 'Vantage 1' seats were priced at €3,200 a year, 'Vantage 2' cost €1,900, 'Vantage 3' cost €1,450 and 'Vantage 4' €1,200.
Letters were sent to the existing 10-year holders asking in which area they would prefer to sit, at no extra cost, unless they wanted to purchase extra seats.
Some 753 chose 'Vantage 1', 165 opted for 'Vantage 2', five chose 'Vantage 3', and 16 took the 'Vantage 4' berths.
It is understood that when ISG was coming towards the end of its association last month, 849 'Vantage 1s' had been allocated -- meaning that the FAI had only sold 96 of the top-priced tickets since September 2008 -- and some of these were sold at a discount.
Sales of premium-level seats are crucial as the FAI seeks to repay the substantial loan it needed to build the Aviva Stadium. Its net bank debt at the end of 2009 was €38m. The FAI has since paid a further €21.9m towards the project.