The View From 116 – Blog Post #7

Finally the new PSL season will be getting underway later this week. With the teams fully prepared and ready for the big kick-off it only remains to be seen how many people will bother to come out and watch the games. In the past few seasons crowd attendances have been declining in the PSL across the country. It is a trend that is even spreading to rugby and cricket. It seems the South African public no longer like to watch their sporting fixtures live in the stadiums.

Nobody seems to know exactly why this and there have even been academic studies published in an attempt to explain what is happening. You can see for yourself with this study published in African Journal for Physical, Health Education, Recreation and Dance, or this Masters thesis from the Northwest University in Potchefstroom. Is it the cost, poor marketing, transport issues, blanket TV coverage or the lack of big name players? It seems even our professors and their students are scratching their heads in confusion.

Under these circumstances it takes a brave man to come out and claim his team will be playing in front of 15,000 fans this season. But that is exactly what John Comitis did when he launched our new rivals Cape Town City. Two weeks later he was even revising the figure upward to 20-30,000. Much of his optimism seems to come from his memories of substantial crowds at the old Green Point and Hartleyvale Stadiums in the 1970’s. This was a time when the original Cape Town City faced local rivals Hellenic, but was also a time when foreign stars, including members of England’s world cup winning squad came over to play as “guests” in exhibition matches. It is a different world now.

South Africa’s glamour sides are no longer in the Cape. We live in an era of blanket football TV coverage, where the most prestigious competitions in world football are available for all to see from the comfort of their own arm chairs. Today’s supporters even prefer to follow football on smart phones than in the stadiums. We have no international superstars in our football and even though we have an international standard stadium it is not easy to access for most of the city’s football supporters.

It is notoriously difficult to obtain PSL attendance statistics. Perhaps in their shame at how low the numbers really are the league keep them hidden away from public scrutiny. Given the supply of sponsor’s money maybe they just don’t need actual people to come out and watch live games. The most recent attendance statistics I could find were these averages (15 home games) for the 2013-14 season (Source: Wikipedia)

Kaizer Chiefs 18,740
Orlando Pirates 12,476
Mamelodi Sundowns 11,533
Bloemfontein Celtic 8,146
Ajax Cape Town 8,110
Polokwane City 6,743
Maritzburg United 6,223
Mpumalanga Black Aces 4,852
Amazulu 4,783
Golden Arrows 4,766
Pretoria University 4,583
Platinum Stars 3,616
Bidvest Wits 3,333
Supersport United 3,069
Free State Stars 2,520
Moroka Swallows 2,220

To reach a regular 30,000 attendance the new Cape side are going to have to almost double the average attendance of Kaizer Chiefs – the club that is regarded as the “biggest brand in Africa”. Good luck with that. We can also assume that the owners will not be putting on coaches to bring the 4, 852 fans from Mpumalanga down to see their new home games.

It is more likely that there will be a group of curious locals that comes out to watch the opening CTC FC games at the stadium. Remember back in 2010, Ajax Cape Town and Santos managed a 20,000 crowd in the game that officially opened the stadium. The first PSL game at the stadium was almost a full house, but that was a double header that featured Orlando Pirates and came just weeks after the hype of the 2010 World Cup. Since then only Manchester United have filled the stadium. There is hope as Ajax Cape Town showed by pulling in 30,000 supporters to see the ill-fated championship clincher against Maritzburg in 2011. But for the most part we are lucky to get anywhere near the 8,110 that the data above suggests was our 2013 average.

Current trends suggest that after the hype dies down and a long season begins, the crowds will dwindle. CTC FC will find that is takes more than an active twitter account and handing out free caps to local bloggers to convince people to actually attend live games. The Cape Town public only seem to come out when there is something to be won or a fancy foreign team is in town. When the likes of Free State Stars and Baroka come to visit, the reality is that both Cape Town sides will be competing for the attention of the few thousand people that actually care about live football in this city.

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