Fans need to do better
Harare – The African Nations Cup is still a very poor cousin of the World Cup and it’s not just the money that makes the difference – even the fans who come and watch the show tell a big story.
There were 50 000 fans at the National Stadium (Soccer City) in Johannesburg, when hosts Bafana Bafana got their 2013 AFCON finals’ campaign underway on Saturday with a tame goalless draw against new boys Cape Verde Islands.
That number even pales in comparison with the 87 352 fans who paid to watch a South African league match, the Soweto Derby, when Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs clashed on December 8, 2012, at the same stadium – just a month before the Nations Cup started.
Almost 40 000 more fans chose to watch the local showdown between Pirates and Chiefs, at the same stadium, than those who came to cheer their national football team.
That this happened within a period of just one month tells its story.
Does that mean Chiefs and Pirates have become, together as a brand, bigger than Bafana Bafana?
“You can say something like that and you will not be too far away from the truth,” Milton Nyamadzawo, a football expert based in Johannesburg told The Southern Times.
“I believe as brands, Pirates and Chiefs have an identity that is acceptable to the people and deliver a product, in terms of the brand of football that they play, which the fans identify with.
“Over time, you build a big fan base and we need to understand and appreciate the crucial issue that this relationship is rather personal and is nurtured week in, week out and that gives it a scope for growth.
“It’s different with Bafana Bafana because they play fewer games over the course of the year and they don’t usually win as many games as the fans would like and that kind of puts off some of the supporters.
“I don’t think it’s something that is peculiar to South Africa because Al Ahly and Zamalek, when they play, they attract more fans than the Egyptian national team and El Clasico, between Barcelona and Real Madrid, has become the biggest game in the world.”
But when the 2010 World Cup came rolling into South Africa, it was a different ball game.
The opening game between Bafana Bafana and Mexico, at the 90 000 capacity National Stadium attracted a bumper crowd of 84 490 fans.
Compared to the World Cup, where only one match is played in the stadium, the Nations Cup has a double-header and fans on Saturday could also see Angola versus Morocco after the opening match.
But, by the time the Angola/Morocco game got underway, half the people in the stadium had left, maybe frustrated by the home team’s failure to break the stubborn Cape Verde side and there were only 25 000 people to watch the second match.
“The World Cup is a different ball game mate and you have to consider that there was history in the making when it came here. There was that excitement that it’s something that had never happened, to have the tournament here in Africa, and people couldn’t resist it,” said Nyamadzawo.
“The Nations Cup is different and it’s held every two years. The players are usually the same and Cote d’Ivoire, now and again, will get into the final and possibly blow it.
“The World Cup is up there and then you have the Euros and the Champions League before you even start thinking about the Nations Cup and we have a lot of ground to cover.
“Africa is also a very large continent, the people are generally poor to travel to cheer their teams and when you have the tournament right at the end of the continent, like in South Africa ‑ it gets really complicated.”
The four-goal thriller between Ghana and the DRC at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium had 7 000 fans, in a stadium that has a capacity of 48 459, although the crowd improved to 20 000 for the second game between Mali and Niger.
On Monday, the action moved to Nelspruit and defending champions Zambia, whose fans at home are just a two-hour flight away from Johannesburg, could only draw 10 000 fans to their opening match in a stadium that has a 40 929 capacity.
There were more Ethiopian fans, inside the stadium, than the Zambians.
The crowd fell slightly to 8 500 fans when Nigeria took on Burkina Faso later in the evening match.
Compare these figures to the World Cup and the difference is mind-blowing.
There were 87 017 fans who watched Ghana take on Uruguay, 84 377 fans who watched Argentina/Mexico, 83 391 fans who watched Ghana/Germany, 82 774 fans who watched Argentina/Korea republic, 83 465 fans who watched Netherlands/Denmark and 84 490 fans who watched the World Cup final between Spain and Holland.
Even at Ellis Park, there were more fans than those who were at Soccer City on Saturday.
There were 53 412 fans for the Italy/Slovakia game and 54 331 fans for the Brazil/DPRK tie.
The overall attendance at the 2010 World Cup was the third highest in history, behind the 1994 tournament in the United States and the 2006 World Cup in Germany.
FIFA reported that 3.18 million fans attended the 64 matches in South Africa and the average attendance was 49 670.
The '94 World Cup in the United States saw 3.59 million people watching the games at the stadiums while 3.36 million did so in Germany.
The Nations Cup still has a long way to go.