by Champika Fernando
Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) on Friday went into damage control mode after the Barmy Army’s incensed reaction to what it said were exorbitant ticket prices for the upcoming England Test tour of Sri Lanka. The sport’s governing body is now offering the fifth day’s play free of charge for all visitors who buy tickets for all five days.
England’s October visit has turned the focus on ticket rates with English supporters, mainly the Barmy Army, accusing SLC of exploiting every opportunity to maximise profits by exorbitantly jacking up prices.
In a stinging letter published on their website, the Barmy Army (a semi-organised group of English cricket fans who arrange touring parties for some of its members to follow the English cricket team on overseas tours) accused SLC of “treating English cricket supporters as a cash cow” through the imposition of inflated ticket prices.
But SLC’s official hospitality partner for the England series, Island Leisure Lanka (Pvt), differed. It said they are selling packages and not tickets on their own. “We are not selling tickets as per our contract but we are selling them with value additions which is the system adopted in many world sporting bodies such as ICC, FIFA , IRB & Ashes series etc.,” said Chandana Amaradasa, Managing Director of Island Leisure.
The tour packages start from US$ 65 per day and includes six drinks, backpack and a tour cap. It goes up to a maximum of US$ 145 per day with various value additions like buffet lunch with unlimited drinks, morning and evening tea with seats in airconditioned comfort.
“We have no issue with the sale of full Hospitality Packages and indeed we expect that there will be a market for this,” the Barmy Army wrote on their website www.barmyarmy.com. “However, it is a fact that the majority of independent supporters would prefer a ticket-only deal and this has not been taken into consideration.”
The normal ticket prices range from Rs 300 to Rs 5000 and SLC says foreign visitors could purchase them without any discrimination.
“The issue here is with the 4000 premium tickets which we have given to our official hospitality partner for a sizable royalty fee,” SLC Treasurer Shammi Silva explained. “The partner, in turn, sells them with value additions. There’s no restriction for foreigners to purchase other tickets and watch the match but those who want to purchase these premium tickets will have to buy it through the designated agent.”
Although Silva claims visitors could buy the non-premium tickets, these are not on sale as of now. And this one of the main grievances of the Barmy Army.
“Furthermore, we pointed out that charging $65 (plus fees) for a Day 5 ticket was unprecedented in International Test Cricket,” the website said. “For example a 5th Day ticket at The Oval for the India Test this summer costs just £20 (source: Surrey CCC Ticket Office). During the last away Ashes series entry on Day 5 was secured via ‘gold coin’ charity donation – a little as $1 AUD (Melbourne excepted – the MCG charged £16).”
“It’s not fair to say that we are ripping off fans here,” Silva insisted. “Like I said, we are talking about premium tickets here. If you take any sporting events, ticket prices can vary based on the demand. Also, in addition to all other costs involved, we have to pay a entertainment tax to the local government authority. So we have set the prices considering all these factors.”
A similar situation arose in 2012. Some tourists who could not secure tickets for the Galle Test watched play from the vantage point of the historic 17th-century Dutch fort which overlooks the stadium. Now, however, they are now threatening to boycott the tour if no finality is reached regarding the ticket prices.
“Unless the Hospitality Option is attractive to you, our advice is not to proceed further with any ticket transaction at this time or at least until we have exhausted our efforts to secure a fair deal for the independent traveling supporter,” the letter reads. “With Test Cricket under threat all round the world, it seems utterly shameful that Sri Lanka Cricket and its agents should be allowed to take advantage of the one group of supporters that travel abroad in great numbers.”
But the hospitality partner is not overly-worried as Barmy Army participation amounts to just 10 percent of the total number of English fans expected during the tour.
According to the hospitality partner, trouble started after many tour operators, both local and British, incorporated match ticket costs without any official communication from SLC. After the prices were officially released, several travel agents tried to get the price reduced but were fobbed off.
“As far as we are concerned, we are well aware that, even in last Ashes test series, Cricket Australia (CA) adopted a system where all rooms, tickets and hospitality were handled by the CA nominated company,” explained Mr Amaradasa. “Barmy Travels and all English tour operators bought all the services from only the nominated company and sold in the UK market which was well accepted by all British operators including Barmy Army. Our Company was the official agent for ICC World Cup 2015 and we bought the match ticket packages at a very high premium prices where the face value of the ticket is very low.”
The Sunday Times learns that more than 50 percent of those premium tickets have already been sold out and the hospitality partner is confident of vending the remainder to high-end tourists.
But the presence of a healthy number of touring fans is of particular value when it comes to the television companies. While they make up a relatively small proportion of most crowds, they often make the most noise helping television companies draw in viewers owing to the atmosphere they create. Sri Lanka will play three Tests, five ODIs and a one-off T20 during the seven-week long tour.