By Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Australia’s consumer watchdog has launched an investigation into Thursday’s basketball World Cup warmup game between the United States and Australia in Melbourne following hundreds of complaints from disgruntled spectators.
Fans, already miffed by the absence of elite NBA players, expressed outrage on social media over seating arrangements at Docklands stadium where many were left with restricted views despite paying top dollar for tickets.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) said it was probing the event and would address seating concerns with organizers before the second match between the teams at the same venue on Saturday.
“We take allegations of misleading behavior very seriously
and the penalties for breaching the Act are significant,” ACCC Chairman Rod Sims told reporters in Sydney on Friday.
“… we have an active investigation under way as to whether there’s been any breaches of the Act in relation to this event.”
A crowd of 51,218 paid ticket prices ranging from A$69.90 ($47) for the cheapest children’s seats up to well over a thousand dollars for premium, courtside seats to see the Olympic champions beat Australia 102-86.
Promoters TEG Live and Basketball Australia, the sport’s national governing body, conceded “some fans” felt their “expectations weren’t met” by their purchased seats but said feedback was strongly positive.
“We appreciate that it was a different viewing experience than many basketball fans are used to because the event was staged within a traditional football stadium,” they said in a joint statement on Friday.
They added that 200 of the 11,000 fans who had purchased floor seating to Thursday’s game were relocated promptly while only two refunds were requested.
Organizers were already under scrutiny for using high-profile NBA players such as LeBron James and Steph Curry in their marketing efforts only for them to skip the games.
Actor Russell Crowe was among spectators left cold by the views of the raised court at the venue, which is mostly used for top flight Australian Rules football matches.
“$1500 a ticket for this view. AUS v USA. Jokes on me,” Crowe wrote on Twitter, describing the event as a “farce” and posting a photo showing a restricted view of the court.
“If you weren’t among 50,000 there and you chose to watch it on tv at home, good decision.”
Fans who paid hundreds dollars for premium tickets at ground level at Docklands were sat on plastic chairs cable-tied together with no elevation to view the court, which was raised nearly a meter from the ground.
“I paid $162 per seat to be in the gods watching a b-grade @usabasketball vs @BasketballAus match,” wrote one Twitter user next to a picture showing the court far away.
Melbourne newspaper Herald Sun dubbed the game “Australia’s Fyre Festival”, in reference to the aborted 2017 music festival in the Bahamas which resulted in lawsuits and the jailing of the promoter.
Visit Victoria, the tourism and major events agency under the Victoria state government, used public funds to help secure the Melbourne games.
“The Labor government paid money to bring this event here. They share responsibility for the disappointment of thousands of basketball fans,” the state’s opposition leader Michael O’Brien told the Herald Sun.
“It’s a rip-off that people paid hundreds of dollars for a plastic chair, a blocked view and teams that didn’t feature the superstars promised.”
The United States play a third fixture against Canada at the Sydney Super Dome on Monday.
(Additional reporting by Colin Packham in Sydney; Editing by Peter Rutherford)