(Harold Cunningham/FIFA via Getty Images)

FIFA’s handling of the fan experience for the 2023 World Cup came under fire this week, as fans struggled with a complicated ticketing rollout following the final draw on Oct. 22. In a statement to Australian news outlet ABC on Tuesday, FIFA said there has been an “unprecedented” demand for tickets.

As the tournament expands in size and scope, there is warranted concern that world football’s governing body isn’t taking the task at hand seriously enough.

“I would say that the ticketing — absolutely something that we’re looking into. There’s been a huge amount of requests, specifically after the draw,” Arijana Demirovic, FIFA Director of Women’s Football Development, told Just Women’s Sports in a small media roundtable on Friday.

A FIFA media officer also said that the organization is optimistic about the targeted sale of 1.5 million tickets for the tournament. The 2019 World Cup surpassed one million tickets sold four days in, selling out 14 of 52 matches. With an expanded field of 32 teams playing 62 matches in 2023, a projection of 1.5 million tickets sold sounds almost conservative despite whatever challenges a tournament in the expansive region of Australia and New Zealand might present for traveling fans.

With demand, however, comes complications. Tickets for a number of the Matildas’ high-profile group-stage games disappeared before fans could even sign up for a presale. A FIFA spokesperson stands by the work the organization has done behind the scenes to be ready for ticketing demand.

The general sales stage began on Nov. 1 and will run all the way to March 2023, but tiered ticketing is complicated, especially when sponsors are involved. Visa has been a FIFA partner since 2007, and their cardholders received access to pre-draw tickets as early as Oct 6. The rest of the population followed on Oct. 12.

After the Oct. 22 draw, which showed fans the participating nations’ paths through the tournament, Visa users again got early access. From Oct. 25-31, Visa cardholders could buy tickets before general sales began in November. Both the Visa pre-sale and the general sale ticket releases were done by time zone, meaning the middle of the night for some fans.

FIFA's Director of Women's Football, Arijana Demirovic, addressed the media Friday. (Christopher Lee - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

“Some of the communications that have been going in certain time zones were maybe not correct for some of the fans, or some of the fans felt that they missed out because maybe it was in the middle of the night for specific matches that they were targeting,” Demirovic said. “There are still tickets available, and there will be different sales stages for the tickets. And I’m hopeful that many more fans will be able to get those tickets.”

Those fans will now have to wait until the “final sales phase,” which begins in April 2023.

“It is my understanding that there will be other opportunities to purchase tickets specifically for those matches that have been extremely popular among the domestic fans in Australia,” Demirovic said. “Because they’re having some big matches in their group stage, and there’s quite a hype around those matches.”

While the international demand for World Cup tickets grows with every iteration of the event, failure in domestic ticketing opportunities undermines FIFA’s stated desire to grow the game in Australia and New Zealand.

“One of the appealing reasons why Australia and New Zealand was selected was obviously because of that development based around [Oceania Football Confederation] and in Asia generally,“ a FIFA spokesperson said.

Demirovic specifically noted the fan interest for tournament debutantes like Morocco and Zambia, as well as promotional events like a trophy tour to drum up excitement for the event.

“I have to say that we will be able to see more and more information in the coming weeks, but already from the initial ticket sales, we’re seeing quite a lot of nationalities registering for tickets as well,” she said. “A big Australian and Kiwi contingent, so to say, but quite a lot of different nationalities.”

Ultimately, Demirovic sees the overwhelming demand as a positive: If some fans miss out, then the Women’s World Cup has cultivated a valuable ticket.

“The reality is there is a capacity at the stadium that we will reach at one point,” she said, “and hopefully those fans are then just glued on their screens and are finding different opportunities to also follow the game rather than to get discouraged, in case they cannot join some of the matches.”

Claire Watkins is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @ScoutRipley.