Champs grandstand ticket a grand prize
Come tomorrow, thousands of Jamaicans will be packing the National Stadium for the final day of Champs. It has become much more than an athletics festival. It's the biggest social event on the calendar. Even people with only a passing interest in track and field want to be there.
I have taken to Champs people who know nothing about the athletes, but they were mesmerised by the drama unfolding and were captivated by the rivalry in the stands, as well as the sheer quality of the students.
Because of this, a Saturday grandstand Champs ticket is arguably the most in-demand ticket for any event in Jamaica. It has now become commonplace for the average Jamaican to cry foul at this time, every year, when he or she can't get any Saturday grandstand tickets to buy.
What is interesting is that the stadium holds somewhere between 28,000 and 30,000 people. Over the last four days of Champs (the first day is free), there are, therefore, well over 100,000 tickets that are available to the public. There are usually no problems getting tickets there, but it is the precious 5,000 on the Saturday, in the grandstand, that has caused all the brouhaha over the years.
The reality, though, is that the 5,000 grandstand seats are not all available to the public, which means that the numbers available for sale are even fewer than the general public may think. This, of course, makes the tickets scarcer and raises the level of corruption and 'bandoolooism' that people are engaging in.
Tickets for sponsors, principals
Champs is heavily sponsored, and the sponsors, I'm told, get anywhere from 40-50 per cent of those Saturday grandstand tickets. This year's sponsors include Grace, LIME, Puma and Huawei. All these people have to be 'looked after'. Assuming 50 per cent are given to sponsors, that leaves only 2,500 tickets for sale. Of that 2,500, my understanding is that ISSA still gives tickets to principals. At last check, I gather there are approximately 174 principals in the organisation. If you give each principal two tickets for his or her spouse, the number is reduced by close to 400. Even if only one ticket is given to each principal, 174 tickets is still a significant number.
And, of course, there are the usual diplomats and bigwigs who will have to get theirs. This could be government ministers or visiting overseas guests. By the end of all this, you may well have fewer than 2,000 Saturday grandstand tickets available to the public at large. Two thousand tickets clearly can't supply the demand, and here is where some smart people 'eat a food' come Champs time.
It's an open secret that once the Champs tickets go on sale, one 'big man' will send his 'confederates' to buy as many tickets as he can. I have heard of cases where this 'big man' will get, say, 40 or 50 'runners' to buy tickets on his behalf. ISSA won't sell more than, say, three tickets to any one individual, but Mr Big Man has an easy way around that. He sends his runners to buy three tickets each. At $3,500 a ticket, he may well spend in the region of $150,000. Each 'runner' will be paid even $1,500 for this. Once the 'big man' has these 50 tickets, he knows he is going to laugh all the way to the bank.
In the days leading up to Saturday, he can sell back these tickets for as high as $10,000! I know this as a fact. My number has being ringing like crazy with people wanting Champs tickets to buy and will pay virtually anything for it. If I had Champs tickets to sell, I could make a pretty penny! So the man who does this as a hustling 'bathes' every year. At the very least, he can sell those $3,500 tickets for $7,000 and double his money. His $150,000 will turn to $300,000 in less than a week! On Champs Day, especially, he does brisk business.
Anybody who has ever gone to Champs will see the scalpers selling tickets for twice the market value outside the gate. Those scalpers are usually acting for the Mr Big Man. This is Jamaica, corruption is rife, and there is nothing ISSA can do about it.
- Orville Higgins is a sports journalist and talk-show host. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.