Sao Paulo - The average attendance at Brazil's new arenas in the five months since the Soccer World Cup was higher than the league mean but stadiums in cities without major clubs are in danger of becoming white elephants, studies and experts said.
The average attendance at all games in the 12 stadiums was 18 300, just above the 16 562 recorded over the season in Brazil's Serie A, statistics compiled by the Folha de S.Paulo and Lance! newspapers showed.
Although the attendance at first division games in new arenas is twice that in older stadiums, only three of the new venues, in Sao Paulo, Belo Horizonte and Manaus, were consistently more than half full.
In others without a strong soccer tradition, crowds were as low as 354 and grounds in Salvador, Recife and Natal regularly played host to less than 10 000 spectators.
"We're more certain than ever that some of these stadiums will be white elephants," said Fernando Ferreira, head of Pluri, a sports marketing firm that tracks football finances.
"The number of people going to games has increased, that is undeniable. The big question is over the future. Are they going to bring in enough money to pay for themselves? Everything indicates that the answer is 'no'."
Brazil built or refurbished 12 stadiums at a cost of 8.44 billion reais ($3.17 billion), around 50 percent more than originally planned. The average attendance during the World Cup was 53 592, the second highest in tournament history.
Since then, Cruzeiro and Corinthians have packed them in, with both clubs averaging crowds of more than 30 000, even though they charged the highest ticket prices in the league, said a recent report from consultancy firm BDO Brazil.
The average attendance in Manaus was also high, at 27 759. Although no big clubs play in the city, teams such as Botafogo, Flamengo and Vasco da Gama have all shifted home games to the Amazonian arena in a bid to attract crowds.
Five of the World Cup stadiums were built in cities like Manaus, that have no first division clubs. Authorities vowed they would ensure those stadiums did not fall into disrepair or were left idle for local authorities to foot the bill.
"There is no chance that these stadiums will become white elephants," Sports Minister Aldo Rebelo told reporters last year.
"They will be much more than football fields. They will be multi-purposes spaces that the cities have lacked before and now will have to use for several different purposes."
Although stadiums have hosted everything from trade fairs to mass weddings, some of them have struggled to attract soccer fans and many have seen more small events than games.
At least two of the publicly owned stadiums recently announced plans to lease the arenas to private consortiums, tacitly acknowledging their struggle.
"The administration understands that this is the best solution for the management of a concern as complex as the Pantanal arena," the owners of the Cuiaba stadium said in an emailed response to questions.
($1 = 2.6653 reais)