Caveat Emptor

Two innocents go to a British cricket match

Say you live in Washington D.C,in the United States, you are in London, and you want to attend a one day cricket match between England and the West Indies, at the Oval. You google “one day cricket The Oval”. You get nothing about the venue at all, but right at the top of the page is a web company selling tickets for sporting events.

So easy. There in front of you is a list of matches. You pick the dates, ask for two tickets and buy them at £115 ticket. (Mmh! Thinks: cricket is doing well! Ticket prices similar to Broadway theatres!)

Buyer beware! What I thought I was buying was two tickets for an all-day cricket match (didn’t it advertise the match as starting at 10am?) with a nice restaurant and a bar, an afternoon lazing in the sun, strawberries and cream, chatting with civilized experts who might help educate my American wife on the rules. A nice introduction to the game.

What I got was two tickets for a 20/20 limited-over match starting at 5.30 in the evening. Add to this, in the row behind us were a bunch of 30-ish adolescents from the City, who pelted us from time to time with plastic beer glasses, shouting loudly and behaving annoyingly. No strawberries, no cream, and only my fifty year old memories of the rules with which to instruct my wife. (Yes, the attendants did try to keep order and did take away the most unruly person behind us. Shame it has to be like this. It’s the beer.)

Well, I didn’t know the questions to ask, did I?

It seemed difficult to find the Oval on the web, but had I persevered I would have discovered that all seats were £35 each. So having bravely admitted paying three times the going price for nothing, here are the questions I should have asked:

- Why didn’t “The Oval” come up on the first google page? Because it is now known as the Brit Oval! Everybody in the world knows it is the Brit Oval, of course. Must do.

(By the way, the staff of the Brit Oval are pleasant and helpful, if you can find someone. You are apparently charged 10p per minute to speak to a human being).

- Is the time advertised (10 a.m) correct? If you are paying £115 you should expect the advertised time to be right, wouldn?t you? Apparently not. When I asked the internet seller why they had had the wrong time on their site from February all the time through to June, they referred me to their “terms and conditions”, which I assume absolved them from responsibility for absolutely everything. Ah, the 21st century! Fortunately, I phoned the cricket ground to check on the actual time.

Conclusion: the vendor wanted me to think it was an all-day game to justify three times the price. Come-back? None. Apologies? You have to be joking! That would require courtesy, that precious relic of yesteryear.

- Why, when googling international cricket, did this obscure Welsh company pop up at the top of the google list? Why, because they paid Google to be there. Misleading? Yes. Against the interests cricket and of the consumer? Of course!

- How can they get away with offering tickets at three times the going price? Because it turns out that they specialize in last minute requests and charge accordingly. Was this made clear on the site? Maybe, if you had time to read the small print, but realistically how many have the time?

- Why, when I ordered the June tickets in February, did they turn up two days before the match? It appears that the Oval only sell to the end-user, not to re-sellers. The Welsh company therefore had to send someone up to London specially to buy the tickets in their own private name. Shady? Not according to current business ethics. Will the Oval ban them in future? I hope so.

- What is a 20/20 game? It seems cricket has brightened itself up, become more of a spectacle and much more exciting. And it is. We enjoyed the actual game hugely, and want to go to another match sometime. But I live in the United States. I had never heard of 20/20, and it didn’t occur to me to ask “what is this” Entirely my fault, but then at that price the internet company should have explained. Shouldn’t they? No, you (living in the land of baseball) are expected to know.

- Where will the seats be in the stadium? We don’t know till 6 weeks before the events was the line. The answer actually was right in front of a bunch of drunken yobs.

- Do we have a choice of seat for £115 a ticket? No, all seats are the same price. No choice

Moral: you have to know what questions to ask. Thanks to Google taking money from whoever wants to come top of a page one search, the internet is becoming an oriental bazaar. We have to accustom ourselves to sending huge amounts of time checking everything and patiently going through dozens of dubious websites before reaching a kosher one that is straightforward and honest. Who benefits? Always business, seldom the consumer!