Drastic measures are being taken in an attempt to increase attendances and encourage greater numbers of local people to attend World Cup matches in St Kitts. A half-day public holiday has been declared for today, when Scotland take on the Netherlands, and sponsors have been given licence to distribute free tickets in an attempt to avoid the swaths of empty seats that have been a feature of group A matches so far.
While St Kitts and Nevis has a two-week window to present itself to a global television audience, the national Government has become concerned that local supporters are being excluded by ticket prices that the Prime Minister has described as challenging.
Concerns first arose at the groups opening match between Australia and Scotland last Wednesday, which was also a public holiday. Warner Park, which has a capacity of 10,000, was less than half full, with only a smattering of local supporters. Attendances have been improving steadily since the match between Australia and the Netherlands on Sunday, the first game for which Cable & Wireless, a tournament sponsor, began its free distribution scheme.
As discounting of tickets is not allowed at this stage. The Government has granted permission for the sponsor to acquire unsold tickets and pass them on to local customers. Anyone adding EC$20 (about £4) of credit to their mobile phone has been eligible for a free ticket and some customers have been adding as much as EC$200 to acquire ten tickets.
Another popular initiative has offered two free tickets to any customer clearing the debit balance on their account. Local radio DJs, meanwhile, have been handed blocks of 700 tickets to give away on air to their listeners. About 1,000 local schoolchildren have also been invited to each match free of charge.
The cheapest tickets, for an uncovered grassy bank, have been $US25 (about £13) for matches involving Australia, dropping to $US15 for other matches.
The average national weekly wage is about $120. Pricing structures were determined at meetings between national heads of government and World Cup officials. The prices, yes, I must say are challenging, Dr Denzil Douglas, the Prime Minister, said. But I think weve come up with the right balance between what we will derive and what we have lost from our pockets.
This fortnight of World Cup action is crucial to a local economy in transition. Eighteen months ago, the Government put an end to 350 years of sugar production in favour of a shift towards tourism, with sports tourism a key factor. About 1,000 cricket fans from Scotland are in the country at present, while the numbers of Australians and South Africans are swelling before their teams meet on Saturday, the one game that has the potential to be a sell-out.
When Warner Park hosted its inaugural one-day international, between West Indies and India last May, there was also a public holiday and the ground sold out, but tickets then were approximately one third cheaper. The worry now is that the opportunity to inspire West Indies cricketers of the future is in danger of being missed.