“2010 Ticket Prices Slashed”. That was the headline that caught my eye while waiting in line at the grocery store. And so, while the old lady up ahead decided to strike up a conversation with an evidently uncomfortable cashier, I read that front page story to find out what was going on. In it, I discovered a major opportunity FIFA missed.

Rather than get into the specifics of an insanely complicated system of seating categories and online allocations that work differently depending on how many tickets you want to buy, which games you want to watch, and whether you’re South African or not, I’ll use an analogy. Imagine the World Cup as an airplane that everyone wants to be on. The choices for seating are first class, business class, and economy class. (There are actually four categories in the FIFA system, but the concept is still the same.)

After a few rounds of ticket sales, FIFA realised the plane wouldn’t be full. The dreaded recession had reared its ugly head yet again by preventing scores of wannabe visitors from making a trip that (especially for those living in Europe) would be considerably longer and more expensive than the one to Germany in 2006. But what about all the extra business class seats reserved for those people? “It’s simple,” said one enthusiastic employee. “Let’s sell them at economy class prices!” Big mistake.

Much has been written about the pitfalls of discounting when times are tough and it seems the rules apply to events like this too. Passengers who already booked their tickets are fuming (one called the practice “grossly unfair”) because FIFA has effectively punished them and sent the message that it’s better to wait until the last minute next time around. They are understandably upset because those in economy class could have gotten more for the same while those in business class could have gotten the same for less. Still with me? Good

Here’s what FIFA could have done. Instead of cutting the price of business class tickets, why not “upgrade” those in economy as a reward for their foresight and loyal support of the beautiful game? And why not give those already in business class the option to upgrade to first class for a nominal fee or give branded hampers to those in first class who can’t go higher? If behavioural economics is anything to go by, the desire to reciprocate initial generosity could even make this work with those just bumped up from economy class.

Now the vacant seats in economy could be sold at prices slightly below the R140 they currently go for (just over €14). An entire campaign could be created about all the stupid things you could spend this amount on when it would make more sense to do so on the experience of a lifetime. They could integrate aspects of social media into their existing campaign by having users submit online video clips expressing how excited they were to know that “they’d be there”.

That way everyone would come out feeling as though they’d won. Right now, that’s definitely not the case. On supporter said, “We no longer know what to believe from FIFA anymore.” Fans feel cheated and that’s not good.

(For more, see 'Research on Advertising in a Recession', Journal of Advertising Research, Volume 49, No. 3, September 2009, pp.304-327)