ITV soccer commentator Robbie Earle, an English-born ex-soccer star who played for Jamaica, this week was fired from his position after he resold a block of the network’s corporate hospitality World Cup tickets, which were intended for friends and family of ITV staff.
The sale was discovered during the Holland vs. Denmark match of World Cup on Monday, June 14. Before half time, officials became suspicious when a group of women, wearing identical orange dresses and sitting close to the front, gained attention from fans and TV cameras while they stood and cheered loudly. Officials believed they were there to advertise for Bavaria Beer, a Dutch company which is not an official sponsor of the games, and which had included similar dresses as part of a gift pack.
Budweiser is the World Cup’s official sponsor, and all advertising by non-sponsors is prohibited. FIFA officials suspected this to be an incident of “ambush marketing,” in which a non-sponsoring company orchestrates free publicity for its product during an event.
Upon investigation, FIFA officials learned that the female fans had received their tickets from Earle, finding stubs of tickets which Earle had purchased in their possession. As a member of ITV’s staff, Earle had rights to purchase a number of tickets to World Cup games at face value, under the stipulation that the tickets were to be used only by friends and family of ITV workers. Typically, staff members request a handful of these tickets at any time, though Earle was within his rights to purchase more. It was Earle’s resale of these tickets, called “touting” in England, which constituted a violation of FIFA rules.
Following ticketing problems with recent Olympic Games, FIFA has been very concerned with the unauthorized resale of World Cup tickets, which led to the creation of an authorized resale site, similar to what the Vancouver Olympics did earlier this year.
An ITV spokesperson stated that other World Cup matches this week have turned up tickets allocated to Earle that were also passed on to unauthorized users.
Some accounts have Earle admitting to purchasing approximately 100 complementary tickets and then selling them, while others have him denying receiving any money for the tickets or implicating a friend in misusing his allocation of tickets. Following the revelations, Earle was immediately dismissed from his ITV position.
Bavaria Beer spokespeople deny that the women had been advertising for the company, suggesting instead that they wore the color to show their support for Holland in the World Cup match. FIFA is investigating the possibility of legal action against the brewery.