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Brazilians gatecrash World Cup arenas as soccer goes upmarket

LiveMint logoLiveMint 11-06-2014 Alex Duff

Joao Cesar says Brazil’s World Cup arenas have priced him out of watching soccer.

Cesar, who earns 787 reais ($353) a month assembling temporary stands for exhibitions, used to pay five reais for tickets to watch local club Bahia’s games in Salvador, in northeast Brazil. Now, he says, he only goes to the brand-new Fonte Nova stadium for the last 20 minutes—when they open the gates to let out fans who’ve paid at least six times more.

“I hardly catch any of the action now, Cesar,” 35, said as he lugged metal stands for World Cup sponsors including Visa Inc. outside the arena.

The World Cup starts on Thursday night with Brazil taking on Croatia in Sao Paulo. The nation has spent $3.6 billion to build or expand 12 stadiums around the country—some in regions without a major team. While the structures have better food, numbered seats and security cameras to stop fan violence, prices to watch club teams typically tripled in the most brutal exclusion of poorer fans in Brazilian soccer history, according to Flavio de Campos, a history professor at Sao Paulo University who leads a group researching soccer.

Stadium operators are luring more affluent fans previously put off by shabby conditions and gang violence, according to Andrew Hampel, chief executive officer of London-based International Stadia Group, who advised operators in Rio, Porto Alegre and Recife on how to boost revenue. The new facilities, some of which opened last year, helped the top 20 clubs increase ticket sales by 43% to 309.6 million reais last year, according to research by Amir Somoggi, a sports marketing consultant in Sao Paulo.

New clientele

Antonio Toninho Nascimento, Brazil’s national secretary for soccer affairs, said in an interview that while he was pleased the new stadiums were attracting a different type of client, including more women and children, he was concerned some poorer fans were being priced out.

“We have to combat a little the elitism of these new stadiums,” Nascimento said.

The pricing of tickets at Fonte Nova arena are based on factors including maintenance and operating costs, according to Marluce Guimaraes, a spokeswoman for the stadium’s operating group that includes Odebrecht SA, Brazil’s biggest construction firm.

Entry prices were cut by 30% within the last year and tickets are on sale for students and pensioners for as little as 15 reais, disproving any theory of elitism, Guimaraes said in an e-mailed response to questions.

2016 Goal

Odebrecht SA is also a partner of the groups that operate Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana stadium along with Los Angeles-based Anschutz Entertainment Group Inc., which runs the Staples Center in Los Angeles. That group last year agreed to pay 5.5 million reais per year in rent and promised to invest a further 594 million reais. It expects to break even in 2016, according to Odebrecht executive Denio Cidreira.

A Bloomberg News review of ticket prices at the Maracana between last July and September showed they were at least 60 reais for non-member fans of local team Flamengo. That’s 8% of the minimum monthly wage of 724 reais.

It’s prohibitive for many Brazilians, De Campos said.

Andre Pires, a spokesman for the Maracana group including Odebrecht and AEG, said in an e-mail that Flamengo sets the ticket prices. Fluminense, another Rio club, has offered tickets at the same stadium for as little as 10 reais this year, Pires added.

Cold food

Hampel said the experience at the 78,000-seat stadium has improved exponentially since a $500 million refit. Five years ago, he said, he was served cold hot dogs in the tribune d’honneur. In 2000, the stadium’s owners said parts of the concrete and steel structure were being eroded by fans urinating in corridors.

The predecessor of the Fonte Nova stadium in Salvador used concrete steps for seating and wasn’t very pretty, Cesar said. Now its facilities include 70 skyboxes, 10 elevators, a nursery and most importantly, according to Hampel, 200 security cameras.

Brazilian soccer has been plagued by gang violence for decades. In the northeast city of Recife last month, a 26-year- old standing outside the arena was killed by a toilet bowl thrown from the top deck.

There are aspirational people with disposable income that want to go the stadia—providing you can satisfy them it’s safe, Hampel said.

Last-minute entrance

According to Nascimento, the World Cup arenas are a new model for security and disprove criticism that those like the Mane Garrincha stadium in Brasilia would be little-used. It had crowds as big as 50,000 in a city that doesn’t have an elite club, often by inviting teams from Rio and Sao Paulo to play home games there.

“People said that Brasilia was a white elephant, but today it’s a gold elephant,” Nascimento said.

In Salvador, Cesar isn’t benefiting from the World Cup. He said he’ll have to get used to his new routine after the tournament: listening to the match commentary on the radio outside the stadium, and then racing in with his friends to crowd the aisles for the finale.

“It’s better than nothing,” he said. Bloomberg

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