Rugby | ADDING THE EXTRAS

World Cup ticket woes frustrate rugby fans

by Rich Freeman

“There are three sides to every story, baby. There’s yours, and mine and the cold, hard truth.”

While Eagles great Don Henley was singing about the “Long Way Home” back in 1982, he could quite as easily have been talking about the ticketing process for the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

Because depending on who you talked to, the process was “great,” a “debacle,” or “totally unprecedented.”

As the dust begins to settle on the events of the last two weeks, the rugby world has been divided between those fans lucky enough to get their tickets of choice for rugby’s biggest show, and those ruing their misfortune at having been denied the opportunity as the result of bad luck or technological incompetence. And local organizers have been caught in the middle trying to justify exactly what has gone on.

On Jan. 15, the final stage of tickets sales began with those who had missed out on previous ballots getting access to tickets on a first-come-first-served basis. Four days later, the process was opened to the general public.

Sadly the process did not go smoothly though, with massive queues online and some serious issues with payments — particularly for people outside Japan.

“With more than 4.5 million ticket applications in the 2018 ballot phases, we anticipated incredible demand when first-come-first-served ticket sales opened,” a source at Japan 2019, the local organizers of the tournament, said when asked if they had been caught off guard.

“Over 500,000 individuals accessed the official ticketing site over the first four days of sales” with over 180,000 tickets sold.

However, the delight of the organizing committee at the demand was offset by the disappointment of those who were unsuccessful.

Those that had failed in previous ballots were angry that tickets for games they had previously been rejected for had become available, and they were even more incensed that they had to wait online for anything up to 20 hours for a second or third bite at the cherry.

And worse was to come as a number who finally thought their luck had come in then had their payments rejected and — with only a limited time to make their purchases — found themselves once again at the back of a queue that at times saw close on 180,000 people waiting in line.

“Emotionally shattered,” wrote one disgruntled fan (@asubsetofdaves) on Twitter. “Stayed up all night to book Rugby World Cup tickets for Japan but (at) point of payment it threw me back into the queue, saying site was busy. In the system for 24 min: well under the required time to complete purchase. Position in queue now in the 100,000s.”

Many others wrote that customer support — particularly English language — did not exist with emails not responded to and phone calls not answered.

Organizers tried to downplay the problem saying, “While the vast majority of customers were able to successfully select and pay for their tickets, we recognize that a small number of customers faced difficulties.”

Not the response people really wanted, particularly in light of the fact that similar issues with foreign credit cards came to light last year during the ballot sales.

“While unfortunate, the issues experienced were exacerbated by the extremely heavy and concentrated levels of traffic to the ticketing site, the source said. “We are working continually with our ticketing partners to address any issues.”

Las Vegas resident Brendan C. Vargas experienced both sides of the story.

“It took me about 12-13 hours to finally get my World Cup tickets,” the former Misawa, Aomori Prefecture, resident told me by email.

“After waiting in the queue for a few hours I got in, but the first time I bought my tickets the card was rejected. I used another card and it appeared to go through with the site saying that tickets were waiting to be finalized or something to that sentiment. Went to bed and woke up to check and found out I did not have tickets. Got back into the system and bought tickets again although at a higher price. Called my bank to make sure there was no problem and had them on the phone as I processed the payment. So I spent ¥10,000 more to get tickets for the same matches I thought I had paid for 12 hours prior.”

Vargas, who hopes to reunite with some of his former Iwate Fuwaku rugby club teammates while over here, went on to say he “seriously hopes getting my tickets for the matches (and getting into the games) won’t be a process as well.”

To which, the local organizing committee responded: “The safety and enjoyment of our fans, players and wider stakeholders is of paramount importance. Security across the tournament, as with RWC 2015 in England, will be robust, without being obtrusive. Ticket holders will enjoy a seamless experience upon entering match day venues that will strike the right balance between ease of access and appropriate levels of security screening and ticket verification.”

For those still hoping to get tickets for the tournament, Japan 2019 had some good news, saying details of the official resales process — set to start in May — will be made public in March.

And organizers stressed that would be the only way to get tickets for games that have at this stage sold out.

“We in no way endorse sales through unofficial channels and anybody purchasing tickets through such channels risk being denied stadium entry,” the local organizing committee said. “We are working with the authorities to control and stop unofficial channels from selling Rugby World Cup tickets and welcome the recently enacted Japanese law making the practice illegal.”

Rich Freeman writes about rugby for Kyodo News and can be heard talking about it during Sunwolves’ home games.

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