It's nearly State of Origin time again, with Game I in rugby league's premier contest now less than two weeks away. But amid all the usual pre-Origin excitement, fans this year are getting worked up over something else too – something most of us would rather not be talking about at all: ticket prices.
The May 28 opener in Brisbane's Suncorp Stadium not only marks the start of Queensland's bid to extend their Origin domination into a ninth straight year, but is also the landmark 100th Origin game since the Maroons and Blues first locked horns back in 1980.
You'd think a full house would be guaranteed on such a prestigious night, but incredibly the QRL is facing the embarrassing prospect of empty seats, with QRL chairman Peter Betros admitting at the start of the month that some 10,000 tickets had yet to be sold.
And it's no wonder, either. Yes, tickets for one of the year's most prestigious sporting events are never going to come cheap. But in some cases fans looking to show their loyalty to their team in Brisbane on May 28 will have paid double what the same seat would have cost just two years ago.
The cheapest $80 ($60 for juniors) bronze tickets have long since been sold out, so your cheapest remaining option is the $180 silver ticket. Throw in a couple of drinks and some food, and that's quite an expensive 80 minutes of footy for your average family.
Prices are identical for the third Origin game, also at the Suncorp, on July 9 and the consensus among many Maroons fans is that the QRL is effectively punishing them for the team's success.
It's hard to argue to be honest, and you have to wonder if ticket prices would be this high if Queensland hadn't won eight in a row.
Betros didn't exactly help his cause last week with comments like “I don’t know why people aren’t supporting it” and “I don’t think people understand there are tickets still for sale out there”.
Completely failing to acknowledge the significant rise in single Origin ticket prices over the past few years isn't exactly the best way to persuade the very people most affected by those price hikes to dig a little deeper.
In truth, the rise in ticket prices is about increasing Maroon Membership sales. Various packages are available, and include a selection of Maroons merchandise, discounts and other extras on top of the basic match tickets.
Looking at Game I, for instance, you could go for the Maroon Single Pack, which starts at $340 for a Category 2 package, giving you an $80 merchandise voucher, Maroon members bumper sticker, wig, QRL Origin DVD and more on top of a silver-level ticket. A cheaper $245 Category 3 package is sold out for Game I but can still be had for Game III.
Alternatively, the Ultimate Queenslander option includes tickets for both games and starts at $485 for Category 2 (again, the cheaper Category 3 option, which costs $295, is now sold out).
Compared to the price of the Origin ticket on its own that doesn't sound too bad, but only if all the extras are actually of value to you.
In the end, unsold tickets always make the most persuasive argument that prices are too high. It's just a shame it could end up happening for arguably the biggest Origin match in history.