By Michael Melia
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP)
Six weeks before the start of the cricket World Cup, tournament organizers are rolling out a last-minute advertising blitz in the Caribbean to boost sagging ticket sales.
About half the seats for matches in the nine host countries are available and officials are rallying local fans to pick up the slack once over-the-counter ticket sales begin Thursday.
“It’s going to depend on local support,” chief ticketing officer Delroy Taylor said. “We’re expecting the people of the Caribbean will come through in this last phase.”
The tiny host nations have spent millions of dollars on new stadiums, roads and other improvements ahead of the tournament – billed as the largest sporting event ever in the Caribbean. But gaps in the stands could sour what many of the countries prize as a rare moment in the spotlight.
Although hosts of later rounds are already turning fans away from some matches, including the final in Barbados, other countries, including Trinidad and Tobago and St. Kitts, are worried because they lack high-profile contests. As many as 100,000 tourists are expected during the March 11-April 28 tournament and foreigners account for many of the tickets sold. When sales resume Thursday after a two-month hiatus, organizers hope for a surge of sales to locals.
“In terms of our culture, we really are a last-minute people,” said Roxanne Morris, commercial manager for the Jamaican organizing committee.
A new strategy aims to energize the Caribbean, first-time hosts of the tournament, with a barrage of advertisements over the first three weeks in February. Ticket centres will hand out World Cup posters, bumper stickers, and CDs with the tournament song, “The game of love and unity,” by local artists including Jamaican-born Shaggy.
Even rural villages are targeted.
A road show in Antigua, which has yet to sell half its tickets for six Super 8 matches, will sell tickets at stops throughout the countryside. In Trinidad, well-known calypso artist Shurwayne Winchester is performing at free concerts with a “cricket caravan” to promote the World Cup.
A lack of widespread Internet access may have prevented people in poor Caribbean nations from buying tickets earlier, Taylor said. Prices range from US$15 to US$90 (C$18-$106) for single matches in the group stage, and US$25 to US$100 (C$30-$118) for the Super 8 round.
Many hotels report cricket fans from overseas, particularly the United Kingdom, have snapped up all their vacancies. But some criticize a special visa regime for the tournament, saying it has discouraged other foreigners. Designed to facilitate travel, the policy treats the host countries as a common space with one visa accepted by all.
Horace Peterkin, president of the Jamaican Hotel and Tourism Association, said fans from countries like Australia have likely been turned away by the hassle and US$100 (C$118) cost.
In the group stage played in St. Kitts, Trinidad, St. Lucia, and Jamaica, sales have been strongest for matches involving the home team West Indies and powerhouses like Australia and India. The top two clubs from each four-team group advance to the Super 8 round, set for Antigua, Grenada, Guyana and Barbados.
On the day of the final, Barbados expects 14 cruise ships to call on its port, with hundreds of yachts ferrying fans from nearby islands. Those without tickets can expect a carnival-like atmosphere with parties and big-screen televisions outside the stadium, said Terry Mayers, a spokesman for the Barbados organizing committee.
Delays in the construction of the stadium hosting the final have pushed the completion date beyond its Feb. 17 inauguration ceremony, but builders say the Kensington Oval will be ready in time for the tournament.
A key factor in locals’ excitement, organizers say, will be the performance of the West Indies, which will seek its third championship since winning the first two World Cups in 1975 and 1979.
“We need for them to do well,” Morris said. “If we can get that kind of positive energy, hopefully it will translate into a positive turnout.