In a little less than a year, soccer fans around the world will flock to Qatar to attend the 22nd edition of the FIFA World Cup. The tiny gas-rich nation hopes to attract at least a million visitors over the course of the month-long tournament, including a large contingent from the U.S., which expects to qualify its team after missing the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
For those fans, though, the trip won’t come cheap; Qatar’s tournament is shaping up to be the most expensive World Cup of all time. By some estimates, Qatar has spent an estimated $220 billion to build stadiums, lodging and training facilities, even creating a brand new city called Lusail for $45 billion. Despite FIFA’s official ticket prices ranging from $105 to $210 for Group Stage matches (Final tickets run from $455 to $1,100) those who want to experience the first World Cup held in the Middle East are expected to spend huge amount on flights, accommodations and food.
The smallest country ever to host, Qatar will also be the first to consolidate all eight venues into a 35-mile radius around its capital, Doha. The concentration of activity will allow visitors to hop from one stadium to another, even making it possible to attend up to four games in one day. Organizers are promoting it as the “most convenient” World Cup, though it will also be the priciest for attendees.
After the U.S. men’s victory over Mexico in qualifiers last month, fans began to firm up their travel plans. Brian Hexsel, chapter chairman and travel manager for the American Outlaws, the fan organization that supports the USMNT, said the process of organizing the group’s trip to Qatar has been challenging and expensive. “I feel like it’s like a transactional experience,” Hexsel said in an interview. “We got a couple of quotes just for the Group Stage, and the price is spinning upwards of $12,000 to $20,000 per person because hotels are costly.” By comparison, the Outlaws spent only $7,000 per person (including flights) to spend three weeks in Brazil in 2014, he said. Hexsel even looked into booking a cruise ship from Carnival to accommodate his group, but those efforts were shut down once he saw the exorbitant docking fees charged by the Qatari Supreme Committee.
Complaints over the cost to attend pale in comparison to the other criticisms this World Cup has drawn, however. Since former FIFA president Sepp Blatter announced Qatar as host, in 2010, the tournament has been surrounded by climate- and location-related controversies, including the rising death toll of migrant workers and human rights abuses during the construction of stadiums. Committed to offering an unforgettable event, Qatar promised to be more transparent and tolerant.
Despite complaints from fan groups regarding the high prices, ticket sales, especially those for premium hospitality packages, are exceeding expectations, according to people familiar with the matter.
Elevate Ventures and Premier Partnerships, the official sales agents in the U.S., are working on the latest details of the premium packages being offered. According to its website, there are a few ways people can take in the tournament: Fans can follow a specific team, attend the final rounds or attend games in multiple stadiums. Prices vary from $950 for one game to $74,200 for the most exclusive matchday hospitality packages that offer a 10-game bundle. Agencies are also offering ticket-inclusive travel packages that take care of every detail from takeoff to kickoff, featuring exclusive experiences, such as showboat dinners, desert glamping, falconry and even staging a pro-am soccer match in the desert.
Still, some experts think Qatar will be no different from previous hosts in terms of affordability. “The tickets have been astronomically expensive for many years. I don’t know when they were last in a region that you would call reasonable,” said Dr. Stefan Szymanski, the co-author of Soccernomics and a professor of sports management at the University of Michigan. “People who are traveling need to be able to blow several thousand [dollars] on the trip. Suppose you went to Russia in 2018, Brazil in 2014, South Africa in 2010. So Qatar is not unique in being for the rich to attend. The World Cup is always for the global rich.”
Among the nations expected to qualify, U.S. fans are among the wealthiest, and thus most likely to be able to afford traveling to Qatar next year.
A recent study by Statista shows that the majority of the people who attended Russia in 2018 were Americans. “At the last few World Cups, visitors from the United States have been among the largest groups, even though the USA men’s team has virtually no chance of winning and didn’t even qualify for 2018,” Dr. Szymanski said. “Americans may not be big soccer fans, but because they come from the wealthiest country on the planet, they can afford it.”