The Porto Affair: Planes, Pains, and Bureaucracy in the Champions League

StadiumThe story of how I ended up watching Paris Saint-Germain’s 1-0 loss to Porto via streaming video on my laptop really is a debacle for the ages and a cautionary tale for PSG on the limits to which it can overcharge its fans for the services it provides. Early last week the club announced in grand fashion that it would provide round-trip airfare, transportation to and from the stadium, and a ticket for the matches against Porto and Marseille for fans who were willing to cough up €340 (roughly $440) for each match. That’s a lot of money for one midweek match and especially expensive for a domestic fixture. When I mentioned it to my French tutor, her response was, “je le trouve scandaleux!” Her opinion on all things PSG is that they are scandalous, the players’ salaries are indecent, and if they make that kind of money they should set up foundations like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett and give back to the youth who come to support them at the stadium. She says all of this seriously without a hit of irony.

With that in mind, I took the metro to Parc des Princes last Friday afternoon and plopped down my €340. Strangely, I wasn’t given a ticket for the game or the plane, nor was I given any instructions on what to do next. I was told, simply, someone will call you. The woman who took my money then handed me something that looked like a ticket in careful packaging, but really it was a glorified receipt. As an American living in France, one of the first things you must adjust to is the French bureaucracy. They do things differently here, but usually they get it done, so I wasn’t worried. In America things are done efficiently or someone will lose his job. In France, it seems, things are done inefficiently so more people can keep their jobs.

By Tuesday morning, I still hadn’t heard anything from the club and I was getting worried. The game was little over 24 hours away, but I figured, I paid my money; they will call with the details. A few hours later while reading Le Parisien, a daily newspaper, I saw a small story noting, to my surprise, that PSG had canceled the flight to Porto because only about 50 supporters signed up. The story also mentioned that the team-sponsored flight to Marseille might also be canceled if enough supporters did not subscribe for that flight as well. I wanted to know how the market price differed from what PSG was offering, so I went online to search for flights. As of Tuesday morning, you could still get a round-trip from Paris to Porto for little over €100 (a few days earlier they were going for €77), and judging by the empty seats in the stadium last night, you could have easily scalped a ticket to the match for maybe half the price of the airfare, putting the estimated cost of getting to the match at €150.

Judging from the dodgy feed I was receiving on my laptop, some PSG supporters managed to make it into the stadium, although roughly 50 of the club’s supporters were turned away despite having tickets. It is likely that many of them were warring factions of supporters that the club banned from traveling. According to reports, a brawl between the two groups broke out around 5 a.m. this morning that left six injured and two hospitalized after they were cut with butcher knives and hit with crowbars.

Once I learned the Porto package was canceled, I went to the stadium for a refund. To add to the Murphy’s Law theme of this entire affair, I forgot my wallet and had to return home without a refund. Since the ride from my apartment to Parc des Princes is about an hour, I decided to wait a few days before heading back. Everything changed when I visited Le Parisien’s website Wednesday afternoon and saw that the price for the Marseille package had been slashed from €340 to €150. Initially, there weren’t enough subscribers, but PSG was loath to cancel the flight because if PSG fans can’t officially travel to Marseille, then Marseille fans would not be able to travel to Parc des Princes for the return fixture later this season. Everyone would lose money if that happened. I took a quick shower and grabbed my copy of La vie devant soi to read on the train. Naturally, by the time I arrived at the stadium the ticket office was flooded with fans who were ready to pay the adjusted price to head to Marseille this weekend. Now there was a new problem. After receiving my refund for Porto, I had to start the entire process over again and sign up for the Marseille package.

The club received more fans than anticipated with the price cut, and will now have to charter a second plane. The only caveat is that they need at least 150 supporters per plane. The first plane is full, and when I left the club’s office Wednesday I was one of fewer than 40 supporters on the second plane. This time they didn’t take my money, but, much like before, I am sitting by my phone as I write waiting for it to ring. Within a few hours I should know if I am going to Marseille or if I will be viewing the match on my 15-inch laptop screen.