Friday, September 01, 2006

The Royal Scam

I've previously posted here about about the irritating habit that some people have of just watching the pre lunch session at a test and disappearing out to lunch for three or four hours, leaving an empty seat that could easily be filled by someone who actually wants to watch the game.

Since posting that, an acquaintance of mine (a self-confessed 'corporate whore' of the highest order) has filled me in on a shady scam that some of the absentees get up to.

A company will book a box for a Test Match for a certain number of people, limited by the size of the box. They pay a price per head for the privilege, which can about anything from £200 upwards.

If you look at the boxes at most Test Match grounds they'll have a couple of rows of seats in front of the dining area where the occupants will sit if they can be bothered to tear their eyes away from the scantily clad piece of eye-candy that a lot of companies feel they should provide for their male guests to slobber over during the day. These seats are normally filled in the morning before the gin and tonic has kicked in, but gradually get deserted around lunchtime and any faux interest in the cricket wanes.

Just after the lunch break starts, the guests will start mingling around the dining table inside the box. At the same time, other 'guests' (or for the sake of accuracy let's call them 'parasitical freeloaders') will leave their ordinary seats in the ground and make their way to the hospitality area. Some of the guests in the box will take their food to the seats outside the box, leaving room around the table inside for the freeloaders to slip into the box and sit down.

The freeloaders will have blagged their way past the stewards at the entrance to the hospitality area, "Dammit, forgotten my ticket old boy - terribly sorry" or someone will come down with another ticket and vouch for them. If you think about the psycology at work here, it's quite easy for a steward to make life difficult for a group of lads in T-shirts trying to use the 'lost ticket' excuse at the main turnstiles, but probably a totally different matter when confronted by someone in a suit talking about 'important clients' in the hectoring tone that this type seem to be born with.

By the time people have finished playing musical chairs, there could be anything up to 25 people enjoying themselves, whilst the company has only paid for 15.

Once inside the box, the only potential spoke in the wheel is the catering corps - and if you're earning a few bob during your holidays, or you're on minimum wage, are you really going to rock the boat by counting heads? if anyone does start querying the numbers, they'll normally be offered a drink, or some folding stuff will drop into someones top pocket.

So not only do a swathe of people leave their seats unoccupied for most of the day - they're also enjoying a full corporate hospitality package for the price of an ordinary seat.

So why should this worry us? After all, people have been 'blagging' their way into sporting events for years and generally the reporting tone is one of admiration rather than censure.

Well, the argument in favour of corporate boxes is that it provides a huge source of revenue for the authorities - money that would otherwise go on other events such as Wimbledon, Royal Ascot etc. Fair enough to an extent, but my contention would therefore be that if companies are prepared to pay silly sums for this sort of thing, you should make the sums as silly as you possibly can and making every effort to maximise profit as much as you possibly can.

Basic supply and demand economics suggests that you should charge as much as an idiot with an entertainment budget is prepared to pay. But if a percentage of people are getting the package for a cut-down price, the authorities are losing out - drink and food and the best views in the groundare being provided for people who haven't paid for them, which isn't the idea at all.

Plus, going back to my original point, a seat lies empty for over three quarters of the day whilst anyone outside is staring at the 'Sold Out' signs.

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