CHAN struggles to woo fans
Harare – It’s a football tournament that was rejected by a number of South African cities, who feared the crippling cost of hosting the games wouldn’t be offset by the revenue generated by a show that is still in its infancy and, judging by the opening weekend, the city fathers were probably justified.
The big story out of the official opening ceremony of the 2014 African Championship of Nations (CHAN) finals at the Cape Town Stadium wasn’t the presidential endorsement provided by the presence of President Jacob Zuma, but the thousands of empty seats.
Tickets went on sale in November 2013 but demand was so low that the organisers decided to introduce heavy discounts to try to push the sales, but the response from the South African football fans remained muted.
The organisers put 350 000 tickets available for the tournament and by January 10, on the eve of the opening ceremony and match that featured hosts South Africa against neighbours Mozambique, only 195 000 tickets had been distributed.
No wonder why the chief executive of the Local Organising Committee of the 2014 CHAN finals, Mvuzo Mbebe, was a worried man.
“Am I excited at this stage about the ticket sales? No I'm not,” he told the media in Cape Town on the eve of the tournament.
“We're targeting 250 000 ticket sales by the end of the tournament.
To date, we have printed and distributed 195 000 tickets.
“For the opening ceremony, we're targeting to print and distribute 50 000 tickets. We have now sold 21 000 tickets.
“We're keeping a close watch on this and I'm sure by tomorrow, this game will be closed (to sales).”
Of course, it wasn’t closed for sales and there were far fewer than 15 000 fans at the Cape Town Stadium for the opening match between Bafana Bafana and the Mambas, the crowd having considerably swelled from the small number that had watched the opening ceremony.
The death of South Africa’s first black President, Nelson Mandela, in December was a hammer blow for the organisers and, as the country went into a prolonged period of mourning, there was no time for them to use the crucial final month, just before the tournament, to go on the offensive in marketing the tournament.
“When we were about to launch our campaign, Madiba passed away and it would have been insensitive of us to have gone on the marketing offensive at that time,” Mbebe told South African Sunday newspaper City Press.
“By the time the period of mourning ended, everybody had closed for the year.
“We are operating at 30 percent of the budget we had for last year’s Africa Cup of Nations and you can imagine what a small fraction that is. Last year, CAF had nine sponsors and now we only have three and it’s not easy for us.
“For AFCON, the government gave us R87 million and we have only R36 million for CHAN.”
“It's going to be a tournament that everyone will be proud of. It's a commitment that we don't take lightly.”
The organisers weren’t helped, either, by the confusion that reigned in the Bafana Bafana camp in the countdown to the tournament with Soweto giants, Kaizer Chiefs, the most popular club in that country, saying they would not release their players to the national team. The row dragged on, until into the last two weeks before the first game of the tournament, and it had a huge dent on the expectations of the fans.
It wasn’t helped, too, by the fact that all the players from Orlando Pirates, the other big football franchise in South Africa that has a huge fan base in that country, were not released for the Bafana Bafana squad.
The Buccaneers had a very long season, without breaking during the off-season last year, because of their commitments in the CAF Champions League where they went all the way to the final only to lose the big game to Al Ahly of Egypt.
While the Chiefs players have since been released into the national team, and featured in the 3-1 win over Mozambique with Bernard Parker scoring a double, the impact that the row left, among the fans, was very negative.
But the organisers believe that a good run by Bafana Bafana could make a difference, in terms of a spike in ticket sales, while the success of neighbours like Zimbabwe, who have huge numbers of immigrants in South Africa, could also help.
“In any country, the performance of the national team defines the tournament. If people look at the opening ceremony and Bafana’s performance and say ‘wow!’ then they will go get tickets and flock to the stadiums,” said Mbebe.
But Zimbabwe football agent, George Deda, feels that the profile of CHAN is too small, to create a huge surge in ticket sales, although he concedes that a good run by Bafana Bafana could also help but only for their games.
“The average South African football fan has been spoiled in recent years, in terms of what has been presented on his table by the game’s authorities, and he was given the World Cup, which is the biggest tournament of them all, only four years ago, and with all those superstars that came to town, they had something big to watch,” said Deda.
“Two years later, the Cup of Nations returned to South Africa and, when you consider it, the World Cup handover hadn’t died yet because this was a historic event and it was the first time that the World Cup had been held in Africa.
“Now, before even that heartbreak of Bafana Bafana’s exit, in that Nations Cup finals at the quarter-final stage, you bring in the CHAN finals, it just doesn’t work in boosting the attraction of the tournament among the fans because, in my opinion, it should be the other way round.
“You have the small tournaments, like CHAN, starting first and then follows the Nations Cup and then you have the World Cup, by doing that you build the excitement.”