x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Sell-out sidelines tennis fans

Some fear touts may be hoarding tickets to the Dubai Tennis Championships as the online ticket quota sells out in minutes.

Mira Hashem, from Lebanon, waited in line for three hours to buy tickets to the Dubai Tennis Championships men's semi-final match.
Mira Hashem, from Lebanon, waited in line for three hours to buy tickets to the Dubai Tennis Championships men's semi-final match.

DUBAI // Tennis fans queued from as early as 4.30am yesterday morning to buy tickets for the Dubai Tennis Championships finals, as the online ticket quota for the final stages of next month's event sold out within 20 minutes. All tickets for the quarter-final, semi-final and final portion of both the mens' and womens' tournaments sold out within several hours of going on sale at 10am. By the afternoon, disappointed fans were already posting on Dubizzle.com, a popular online marketplace, asking for tickets.

The unusually fast sale fuelled concerns that touts had snapped up the majority of the tickets, hoping to resell them at vastly inflated prices. The scarcity may have artificially inflated prices to the point where many tennis lovers have been priced out of the market, said Brij Menon, 36, manager of the Dubai United Expat Tennis club (Duet). "A lot of our members will be disappointed that the tickets for the finals have sold out so fast," he said. "Many of these tickets will now be resold for up to Dh500 to those that can afford it. It is the real fans that miss out, and this can diminish the atmosphere at the stadium."

Until several years ago, touting was virtually unheard of in the UAE, although it has been a common practice in Europe and North America for decades. An increasing roster of popular events such as Formula 1 and the Rugby Sevens has not only generated a huge demand, but a lucrative resale market. Some fans were duped into buying forged tickets even before details of November's F1 races had been announced, and as recently as last week ticket touting was evident at the Capitala World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi.

Although there is no federal rule prohibiting touts, it is a condition of sale that tickets cannot be re-sold, and those purchasing such tickets, either online or outside the stadium, could be prevented entry to the event. Salah Tahlak, tournament director for the tennis championships, warned customers against buying invalidated tickets from unofficial sources. "We discourage anyone from buying tickets that are being sold above face value, and to only purchase tickets from official outlets," she said.

The event's organisers, who also manage the Rugby Sevens tournament held early last month, have already limited sales to four tickets per person and 10 per company in an attempt to discourage touts. They have also been working closely with Dubai police and administrators at online marketplaces where tickets are sold. "During the championships, Dubai Police and tournament security play a vital role in carefully monitoring the resale of tickets outside the stadium," said Mr Tahlak.

He added that organisers also work with websites such as Dubizzle.com, which has staff monitoring and removing any ticket postings by those seeking to make a profit. Mr Menon at Duet said the problem could also be combated by following the lead of European tournaments, such as Wimbledon, which hold back 50 per cent of the tickets for sale on the day of the match itself. Although this can lead to long match day queues, it at least ensures a balance between corporate guests and genuine fans who are willing to wait.

With the online tickets gone, fans had no choice but to queue at the Aviation Club box office for the remaining seats. Rajat Kumar, 43, a banker from India, waited for almost four hours, but said the atmosphere and the star players would make it worthwhile. However, he had one suggestion for solving the touting problem. "If they print names on tickets and ask for ID upon entrance, then touts wouldn't be able to resell them," he said.

In the future, ticket shortages for the event should ease once a plan to move it from the 5,000-capacity tennis stadium in Al Garhoud to a new 25,000-capacity stadium in Dubai Sports City is realised, perhaps by next year. The Dubai Tennis Championships will be held from February 14-27. tbrooks@thenational.ae