Rugby Union: Ticket prices hit new heights

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BLACK MARKET tickets for Saturday's England-Scotland match at Twickenham are in such unprecedented demand and such short supply that the price of two together in a decent spot has reached the mind-boggling level of pounds 2,000.

The serious implication for corporate-hospitality operators, who are prepared to pay vastly over the odds, is that the tickets on which their business depends will not be available, leaving them clearly vulnerable to legal action for breach of contract.

Indeed, according to Nigel Clowes, managing director of Garfit Clowes Consultants, a corporate-hospitality consultancy which as a member of the Corporate Hospitality Association does not deal in black-market tickets, one such operator is 60 tickets short for Saturday.

While this is a drop in the ocean compared with the 4,000 or so punters who will get into Twickenham by this highly priced route, it is evidence that the Rugby Football Union's long-term efforts to confine its tickets to genuine supporters are bearing some fruit.

'Clients are coming to me saying they've been let down and asking if we can help - to which the answer is no,' Clowes said yesterday. 'One company is 60 tickets short and has been ringing to tell its clients. They made some enquiries into the market and have been quoted as much as pounds 2,000 a pair.'

This is a source of satisfaction to the RFU. 'The higher the price goes, the more difficulty these people are having in getting tickets,' Dudley Wood, the secretary, said yesterday. 'This means that the squeeze is working. We would say to companies that, if they are dealing with unofficial providers of hospitality, they run the risk of not having bona-fide tickets to the match. Companies enter into these arrangements without realising they are dealing with people whose operation is based on black-market tickets.'

It has happened before. Corporate clients have been surprised and incensed to be denied entry because they held stolen or forged tickets and a couple of years ago a company called Maceworth collapsed after having to settle with some of the 300 clients who had been left ticketless in their marquee before a Twickenham game.

'As a client you enter into an agreement which clearly guarantees a reserved, seated match ticket and if you don't get one I'm sure you could sue,' Clowes said. 'Corporations would sue because of damage to client relations. The black market is sustained at these ridiculous levels because we are talking not about individuals but coporations who are faced with letting down a client.'

Clowes is frustrated at the restricted number - 400 - of corporate-hospitality packages officially allocated by the RFU. But there are no plans for an increase, even when a completed new east stand increases Twickenham's capacity from 54,000 to 67,000 for the New Zealand match in the autumn.