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Paying the price for the World Cup

The cost of a "ticket" is scaring many fans away from the world's most popular sporting event

The world's most popular sport is not necessarily the cheapest to watch. When the World Cup kicks off tomorrow, the action will be out of reach for many fans around the globe. The planet's most spectacular sporting event has been plagued by sponsorship and licensing problems, so much so that uncertainty over how many people will get to see it live lingers in many countries - including Thailand

The best-case scenario for football fans would be to get all matches on free TV. It won't happen and never will, though, now that the "beautiful game" has become so potentially lucrative. However, fans in Thailand got a boost this week with the news that local broadcast-rights holder RS had struck a deal with TrueVisions, meaning many subscribers will now be able to watch the games without paying extra.

But that still leaves the majority of footie fans with a dilemma: fork out Bt1,590 for an RS World Cup set-top box to ensure they don't miss a single game in the once-every-four-years event, or stick with free TV where only 22 of the 64 matches will be broadcast.

And it's not just fans in Thailand who are facing difficult choices. Across the globe, viewers are having to pay extra for the satellite and cable TV feeds of the tournament. Fans in Hong Kong have to sign up for two years of cable service at the equivalent of Bt160 per month, while US-based pay-TV subscribers need to cough up an extra US$10.

Those who don't pay up will find themselves sidelined. For example, in Thailand the 22 live matches on free TV mostly feature unfancied teams.

Money has poured in from sponsors, but the massive costs of building stadiums and ensuring security for the tournament means that the World Cup comes with a price tag attached. Bids for broadcasting rights have soared and so have other costs involved with the game. With each tournament striving to be more spectacular than the last, costs have spiralled. Stadiums must be grand and the opening ceremony a visual feast, while broadcast technology must make leaps to keep up with demands of watching TV fans.

But all the razzmatazz and hi-tech visuals can't disguise the fact that we have lost a measure of World Cup spirit. In past decades the telecast technology may have been poor, but it was free, meaning all fans could join in the fun of the tournament. What is supposed to be a global celebration of the world's most popular sport now threatens to become a private party enjoyed only by those with money enough for a "ticket".

Sport is supposed to inspire. We owe a debt to those who invented the beautiful game of football and those who launched its World Cup back in 1930. But the tournament's organisers and the businesses that reap huge profits from the event should take a step back and rethink their strategy. Fans understand that they must share the cost of staging the event, but there needs to be a balance between making money and making the game accessible to the poorest corners of the globe. Football is all about the fans, and without them the game, however beautiful, loses all meaning.


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