One of the major drawbacks of generating revenue in African sports, particularly football, is a relative lack of tangible widespread interest. With the absence of this interest, the various local football leagues in Africa are faced with low stadium attendances and low profile match-day experiences ,which in turn make for rather dour games.
Across the world, one of the key components of football games and competition is the presence of the fans, which adds an entirely unique element to these events. The atmosphere they create, the support they provide and the camaraderie they engage in all make a truly unique factor which, in many ways, elevates the game altogether.
In recent years, Africa has faced the widening gap between its revenue generation ability and those obtained in global football circles as it aims to develop and sustain a continental football economy that can, at best compete with, and at worst, not appear too inferior to European leagues particularly.
The continent’s leading lights have been handed further conviction of this possibility by the successes enjoyed by the Australian A-League and the American MLS. However, while some African leagues such as the South African PSL and the Moroccan Botola boast decent organization and attendance numbers, most leagues across the continent are plagued with crowd trouble while others, such as the Nigerian Professional Football League, are renowned for shoddy organization and dodgy officiating.
There might be a litany of problems with local leagues in Africa, but one which must be tackled urgently – alongside credible officiating and organization – is the lack of attendances at stadiums.
Fans in Africa are famously passionate about football and it is paradoxical that these same fans pass up the opportunity of taking advantage of the proximity which the local leagues offer in favour of adding to television audience numbers for Europe’s leading leagues. However, if clubs in conjunction with league organizing companies attempt to fix some particular issue, they may well begin the long-term process of reversing or balancing the interests of African football fans.
Egypt has suffered cases of crowd violence in the last three years with more than twenty people tragically killed in instances that occurred in recent years. As such, with the possibility of lax security becoming an apparent issue, it is not hard to understand fans who choose to remain at home rather than attend these games out of fear.
Fixing stadium security is paramount as should fans view attending games as being a huge safety risk, attendances are bound to dwindle. It is pertinent to note also that crowd violence is not an issue exclusive to Africa as only last year a fan was killed in Spain after clashes with rivals but the difference and key to retaining supporters’ trust was the swift and strict response of the Spanish football authorities.
In Germany, the Bundesliga is ranked as one with one of the most globally attended games. The relaxed atmosphere at games make it a perfect day out for family outings which boosts attendance figures at various arenas in Germany.
It is imperative for club officials and for league bodies to address the security issues at various stadiums and adhere to tackling issues head-on to regain and retain the trust of match-going supporters.
Another reason supporters pay good money to see games is because of the entertainment value it offers. In many of Europe’s biggest leagues, the chance to see star names in action is a major attraction but besides that, the quality of football on display goes a long way in ensuring that, like every customer and service provider relationship, the fans in the stands get value for their money.
Interestingly, the presence of big names does not always guarantee excellent football just as their absence does not automatically rid leagues of high quality football.
The truth is that the delivery of football as a product on match-day is an interwoven process that involves the provision of adequate welfare packages and facilities and also organization on the part of the league body.
Where shoddy officiating reigns supreme, like in the Nigerian Professional Football League, it is important to win the trust of supporters with credible refereeing so that fans do not feel as though they are pawns in a high level game of match-fixing. The genuine factor of unpredictability and entertainment in football on match days gives fans extra incentive to pay good money to watch; it behoves the clubs and league bodies to deliver this.
What do clubs stand to gain with full stands?
With sold-out stadiums on a weekly basis, the possibilities are near endless for football clubs as they are provided with a tangible, sustainable and long-term source of critical revenue. Of the four key revenue streams in sports globally, gate receipts account for the highest percentage of earned revenue ahead of other components such as media rights, sponsorship and merchandise.
Clearly, while other components involve a few variables, the match-going fans who buy tickets to watch their favourite teams play can provide teams with a stable source of income but only if conditions for attendances are right.
In a way, high level attendances can spur on other revenue streams. A case in point is the newly launched football franchise in America’s MLS. New York City played their first ever home game two weeks ago and with a sold-out stadium, the club’s shops also witnessed a lot of activity.
A particularly popular item was the official club scarf with official club outlets announcing that they posted the highest game day merchandise sales in MLS’ 20-year history. A total of 4,000 scarfs were sold netting the club between $80,000 and $120,000 on that day alone from the sale of just one line of items.
The congregation of large numbers also increases branding value in and around stadiums as the club can monetize the consistent presence of its brands with stadium ad panels, brand activation and multiple other channels.
As many of Africa’s local leagues push for rapid growth and formulas for achieving sustainable success, it is crucial that some focus lies on ensuring higher attendances at games.
The fans are passionate about their football and about their teams and if the conditions are right, many global lessons have shown that these fans are generally willing to put their money where their mouth is.