The Nations cup is just half way through its first week having nearly concluded the first round of matches at the group stages. However, all the excitement and noise about the competition seem to be lost on the home country as the stands have virtually been empty, at least for the first round of games. In fact the opening ceremony was notoriously empty. But why are the stands empty, do South Africans hate football or are the tickets too expensive?
The first question is pretty easy as we all know South Africa is a soccer loving nation. Local matches of the SA league which are beamed on DSTV regularly shows a full and boisterous crowd at various stadia. According to media reports the Orange African Nations Cup ticket cost between $5.88 to $22.35 just to watch a match at the current Orange African Nations Cup (that is in Naira terms between N923 to N3,509). The price by the way is for South African Citizens. In fact a single ticket would have gotten you the two opening matches.
According to organizers a total of 1,474,792 sits are available in the 5 stadia that will be used for the tournament while organizers planned to sell about 500 tickets. The orgainisers therefore expect to get between $2.9million and $11m for the tournament. Contrast this to Euro 2012 which had tickets prices ranging from Eur 30 to Eur 300. In addition, the Euro 2012 had about 550,000 tickets available for sale and received about 12,149,425 tickets applications. Yet the Euro was very well attended as the stadiums were mostly full for almost every match played in the tournament.
Empty stands at the Nations Cup isn’t quite synonymous with South Africa alone, in fact I recall the 1994 Nations Cup in Tunisia which Nigeria won was mostly empty despite the coverage the competition received at the time. Last year’s competition also witnessed empty stands. So why are Africans uninterested with watching the Nations Cup? I haven’t seen any research that addresses this question but I believe the following reasons may explain why.
1. Africans are so impoverished attending the Nations Cup or indeed any major sports competition do not just rank high in the priorities of most people. People are very much committed to working just to earn a living to even think of attending a football competition. That is why even when tickets are free, fans still do not attend.
2. There is also an evident apathy to Nation Team football by football lovers as they mostly choose local clubs or European clubs over their Nation Teams. National Football is mostly viewed as a mirror of bad governance prevalent in the country and as such people do not feel emotional attached to spend a dime on them. This maybe debatable but can’t be disregarded.
3. Organizers of the Nations have over the years failed to create a very attractive product of the Nations Cup over the years. Apart from being a football tournament there is nothing really much the competition has to offer in terms of entertainment. Even if there is, it is not very well promoted. Organizers should integrate musicians, movie stars and sports stars in the promotion and attractiveness of the competition. Intending competition attendees should be wooed not only with football but other incentives that can also attract non football lovers. The Carnival feel is mostly lacking in the competition.
4. Although we have some African stars with ubiquitous popularity most of them are relatively unknown and as such the footballers do not have the star power?to attract fans accross the continent. Imagine of stars like Messi, Van Persie, Xavi and all the many European Stars were attending the Nations Cup. This I believe is an important ingredient in ticketing sales as fans are motivated by the type of quality footballers on display. This does not in anyway mean that the footballers at the Nations Cup are lacking in quality, their unpopularity is mostly due to the weak coverage African football gets over foreign ones.
5. Poor Inter Regional Tourism is also a major factor in the weak attendance of fans and sporting tournaments in Africa. According to the World Bank African Competitiveness Report for 2011, Sub Saharan African Countries in general rank lower than their counterparts in Asia and even South America. Surely, with lack of interest in tourism within African countries most tourists do not find competitions like this attractive which do not help the host countries fill of the stadia.