S'Busiso Mseleku

Do SA fans love football - or just Chiefs and Pirates?

2015-08-03 13:10
Sport24 columnist S'Busiso Mseleku (File)

South Africans have been branded as a football-mad lot.

This notion has never been more bandied about than when the country was bidding to host, first the 2006 Soccer World Cup and later the 2010 version.

The whole world was told ad naseum how this country follows the game of the pig skin in huge numbers.

Everybody willing to listen was told how hosting the biggest sporting event on the globe would change millions of South African lives.

But for years, soccer administrators have been battling with a single problem: How to get bums on seats at soccer matches.

The premier Soccer League (PSL) and the South African Football Association (SAFA) have tried several marketing gimmicks to bring more people into the stadiums when clubs or Bafana Bafana play.

The last time we saw the national soccer team pack the stadiums was during the 2010 World Cup. The other time was during the 1996 Africa Cup of Nations.

But week in and week out we see rows and rows of empty seats when PSL or Bafana matches are played.

That is until the revered Soweto Derby featuring Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates comes around. This is the only match that attracts crowds of more than 90 000 spectators.

This past Saturday's Carling Black Label Cup derby saw 94 713 people through the turnstiles at FNB Stadium.

This was even more than the 85 437 crowd that watched Sunday's English FA Community Shield featuring Arsenal and Chelsea.

The South African situation becomes even more glaring when one watches football from other countries where stadiums are packed week in and week out and not only for local derbies, but almost all league matches no matter which two clubs are involved.

Just as it has been the case for the past five years, tickets to the Carling Cup match were sold out two weeks in advance.

But it happens to be the only match on the South African calendar that manages to garner such attention and draw such a big crowd.

Other PSL clubs usually struggle to even get 5 000 spectators to watch them play against each other unless they face Pirates or Chiefs.

This is where the question comes in: Are South Africans as soccer-mad as they are made out to be or is that just a fallacy?

Do they really love their soccer so much - or they just only love their Chiefs and Pirates and it ends there?

This then becomes a challenge to the other 14 clubs to up the ante in their marketing strategies and drives to attract more supporters.

They need to be more aggressive, go into the communities they are based in and find out exactly what they can do to get people to attend their games in huge numbers.

They need to prove their worth and show that they deserve to be watched by big crowds and not only wait for crumbs that fall off the table when the two giants - Chiefs and Pirates - come to town.

They must learn not to only rely on the R1.5 million monthly grants they get from the PSL but come up with other innovative ways of getting bums onto seats.

Or maybe it is high time football supporters to ask themselves some serious questions, like why they do not support their local sides as much as they support the 'Big 2'?

Authorities also need to ask themselves if we need 16 clubs in the league. Maybe there are just not enough people around to sustain a 16-team league.

These are just some of the issues that need to be addressed in answering the thorny question of attendance at football matches in South Africa.

S’Busiso Mseleku is regarded as one of Africa's leading sports journalists and an authority on football. He has received some of the biggest awards in a career spanning well over 20 years. He is currently City Press Sports Editor.

Disclaimer: Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.


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