Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – Fans attending the World Cup final in Rio’s Maracana stadium on Sunday are either very rich or a little bit crazy (or both).
Ticket prices on the black market for the clash between Germany and Argentina have been soaring as high as $20,000.
At face value, the tickets to the final cost between $440 and $990 but rampant black market trading has driven up prices, despite a crackdown by Brazilian police on ticket scalpers.
Online marketplace eBay offered tickets to the final with prices ranging between $5,000 and $15,000 on Friday, while a day prior, ticketmaster.com had prices ranging from $7,000 to $20,000 for VIP 'hospitality' packages.
Hotels in Rio de Janeiro play an important role in the last-minute ticket trade, as many hotel managers use their connections with scalpers to arrange tickets as a service to their guests - of course, for an exorbitant fee.
In one of these hotels, Fred, a 34 year-old Argentinian e-commerce manager from Buenos Aires told Al Jazeera he would pay up to $4,000 for a ticket to the final if he could find one.
“Because of Brazil’s proximity, Argentinians realise that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to see their team play – and even win – the World Cup final,” Fred said.
“The next World Cups will be held in Russia and Qatar, which will be too expensive for us to travel to. And after 2022 it will likely be a while before they give the World Cup to South America again.”
Football takes priority
Asked if he discussed an upper-limit for a ticket to the final with his wife, he said he didn’t have to. “We have an understanding when it comes to football and I think this is common in Argentina. Some things are more important than a balanced checkbook,” he added with a smile.
Rio’s Maracana stadium holds 75,000 seats but the amount of people who are actively looking for tickets is more than ten times as high, according to the police.
Speaking to Al Jazeera, Göran Schwind, 35, from Berlin, said he has been on a desperate search for an 'affordable' ticket to the final ever since he arrived in Rio de Janeiro.
“I tried to get one on the plane to Brazil and at my hotel, but now I’ll try my luck in front of the stadium. I would be willing to spend up to 5.000 euros ($6,800). If you earn more than a million dollars a year ... it's no problem to pay that.”
One major problem faced by last-minute ticket buyers is that they do not know whether their black market ticket is actually valid until they scan it at the entrance of the stadium, something the police has repeatedly warned fans about.
“I would try to let someone who can tell if the ticket is original or not take a look at it,” Schwind said. “If I get caught by the police, I would say that I found the ticket.”
A ticket scalper, who said he quit the illegal business, told Al Jazeera that he used to buy as many tickets as he could get his hands on, as early as possible.
“As soon as the game was sold out, we could start selling them for whatever price we wanted. Why else do you think games are sold out within 10 minutes?” he said, on condition of anonymity.
“We could either buy the tickets at the stands, or they would be offered from inside (football club owners or stadium people), but we always had to buy them first and sell them for a higher price. We don't know the big bosses, we always get the tickets from someone who knows someone.”
Meanwhile, police in Rio de Janeiro are continuing their search for the director of FIFA’s ticket and hospitality company, Match Services, who fled his hotel after news emerged of his alleged involvement in widespread illegal ticket trading.
Security camera footage showed how Ray Whelan fled his high-end Caesar Palace hotel at Copacabana Beach through a service exit shortly before the police arrived to arrest him on Thursday.
Whelan is accused of illegally selling thousands of tickets, which were meant for players and FIFA relations. Police said the accused and 11 alleged accomplices made more than $66 million with the scam.