Ticket fiasco leaves soccer association millions in red
Published 09/09/2010 | 05:00
IRISH soccer's governing body is facing a crisis over the disastrous sale of premium tickets for the new Aviva Stadium, an Irish Independent investigation reveals.
The Football Association of Ireland (FAI) is millions of euro in the red after it failed to sell half of the 10-year tickets it planned to use to cover its massive borrowings. Thousands of empty premium seats were clearly visible in both of Ireland's first two home internationals in the €411m stadium.
And today's revelations will heap further pressure on chief executive John Delaney, who has continually denied the extent of the ticketing fiasco.
Mr Delaney and his board gave the green light for the association to take out massive loans to fund its €74m commitment towards the renovation of Lansdowne Road. It intended to cover the repayment from the sale of 10,400 premium-level 'Vantage Club' seats.
At the launch of the Vantage project in September 2008, Mr Delaney said the association needed to sell 60pc of the seats to reach break-even point.
However, figures seen by the Irish Independent reveal that International Stadia Group (ISG), a third-party company commissioned by the FAI to sell the seats over two years, had allocated just 4,077 seats when they wound down their association at the end of last month.
And the actual number and value of the premium ticket sales is far lower, our investigation reveals.
Some 939 of the 4,077 Vantage seats have been allocated to existing 10-year ticket holders, many of whom are from financial institutions who haven't paid a cent since the Vantage Club project was launched in 2008. They will not decide whether or not to renew their tickets until 2014 or 2016.
The figure of 4,077 seats also contains scores of cancelled orders that remain in the system. These include people who were sent out direct-debit forms more than a year ago and have chosen not to return them and clients and fans who informed the ticket sales team they would not be making further payments.
The extent of the poor ticket sales has raised serious questions over decisions taken by the Abbotstown hierarchy.
At the beginning of the project, ISG were prepared to pay the FAI €75m for all of the premium seats and bear the risk if sales were poor. The FAI believed it could earn more by remaining the backbone of the operation and paying ISG commission.
Last night, an FAI spokesman denied it turned down an offer for all of the seats. But in May, then FAI president David Blood stated the board had made the decision to press ahead with their own business plan, rather than accept an offer from a third party. Now the association, which has taken control of the sales from ISG, must manage the huge debt.
Ireland played their first competitive match at the Aviva Stadium on Tuesday, with thousands of empty seats in the venue for the Euro 2012 qualifier with Andorra. Last month, they failed to sell out a glamour friendly with Argentina.
ISG struggled to sell the tickets because of the exorbitant prices, which ranged from €12,000 to €32,000 depending on the quality of view, to cover all soccer international games over the next decade.
The IRFU, who were partners with the FAI and the Government in funding the Lansdowne revamp, had sold all their premium seats at a flat price of €15,000 before the Rugby World Cup in 2007.
Many of those who bought the FAI's tickets have also secured them at significantly discounted prices, with a common reduction of 33pc for the cheapest seats.
At the FAI's recent AGM in Wexford, Mr Delaney, who is paid €430,000 a year by the association and was recently awarded a new contract, insisted 6,300 of the premium seats had been allocated, including 'sponsorship commitments'.
Yet he failed to reveal how many had actually been sold, either at discount or full price.
The Irish Independent sent a list of questions to the FAI yesterday with respect to the sale of Vantage Club seats.
In response to our queries, FAI communications director Peter Sherrard would only reply: "All of these questions were asked at the AGM and were answered by John Delaney in your presence. We do not have anything to add."
The Irish Independent understands the FAI has agreed a deal with 3 Mobile, the new shirt sponsors, which will see the telecommunications company taking up to 2,000 of the premium-level seats.
But it is not clear if the FAI will receive any extra profit from that arrangement. Mr Delaney has said the FAI's four-year deal with the mobile company is worth €7.5m to the association. A 3 spokesman would only confirm that "ticketing and supporter initiatives" were part of the sponsorship.