Alex Duff and Tariq Panja Rio de Janeiro

Joao Cesar says Brazil’s World Cup arenas have priced him out of watching soccer.

Cesar, who earns 787 reais (R3 764) a month assembling stands for exhibitions, used to pay five reais to watch local club Bahia’s games in Salvador, in north-east Brazil.

Now, he says, he only goes to the brand new Fonte Nova Stadium for the last 20 minutes – when the gates are opened to let out fans who have paid at least six times more.

“I hardly catch any of the action now,” Cesar, 35, said as he lugged stands for World Cup sponsors, including Visa.

The World Cup starts today with Brazil taking on Croatia.

The nation has spent $3.6 billion (R38.4bn) to build or expand 12 stadiums – some in regions without a major team.

While the structures have better food, numbered seats and security cameras, prices to watch club teams typically tripled in the “most brutal exclusion” of poorer fans in Brazilian soccer history, according to Flavio de Campos, a history professor at São Paulo University who leads a group researching soccer.

Stadium operators are luring more affluent fans previously put off by shabby conditions and gang violence, according to Andrew Hampel, the chief executive of London-based International Stadia Group, who advised operators in Rio, Porto Alegre and Recife on how to boost revenue.

The new facilities, some of which opened last year, helped the top 20 clubs increase ticket sales by 43 percent to 309.6m reais last year, according to research by Amir Somoggi, a sports marketing consultant in São Paulo.

Antonio “Toninho” Nascimento, Brazil’s National Secretary for Soccer Affairs, said in an interview that while he was pleased the new stadiums were attracting a different type of clients, including more women and children, he was concerned that some poorer fans were being priced out.

“We have to combat a little [of] the elitism of these new stadiums,” Nascimento said.

The pricing of tickets at Fonte Nova arena was based on factors including maintenance and operating costs, according to Marluce Guimaraes, a spokeswoman for the operating group that includes construction giant Odebrecht.

Entry prices were cut by 30 percent within the last year and tickets were on sale for students and pensioners for as little as 15 reais, disproving “any theory of elitism”, Guimaraes said.

According to Nascimento, the arenas are “a new model for security” and disprove criticism that those like the Mane Garrincha Stadium in Brasilia would be little used. – Bloomberg