JOHANNESBURG – It takes an intricate balancing act to please football’s holy trinity – the fans, broadcasting rights holders and the organisation running football as they all play a big part in making the beautiful game a success.
But the scale has slowly been tipping on the side of the broadcasters and those running the game, alienating the fans – especially those who make the trip to the stadium.
The time certain games are scheduled tends to favour what I will call “couch fans” rather than those who make the pilgrimage to the stadium.
It’s a ticking time bomb that will see everyone lose if we don’t meet each other halfway.
The chaos that ensued at Loftus Versfeld in Mamelodi Sundowns’ clash with Kaizer Chiefs that forced a 20-minute delay due to a large number of fans who were still streaming into the stadium is more than just an act of people who weren’t punctual.
A 7.30pm kick-off for a game of that magnitude was an awkward time for fans who knock off at 5pm with some having to travel from Joburg to Tshwane during peak hour going to the capital using public transport.
But in terms of broadcasting the game, 7.30pm was perfect as it gives fans enough time to prepare their supper before settling in for an entertaining match of football.
That type of thinking, though, isn’t sustainable as the fans who go to the stadiums are the games’ heartbeat.
Premier Soccer League chairman Irvin Khoza likes to argue that one of the reasons why we don’t consistently have packed stadiums is that fans have a lot of options to entertain themselves – including a lot of options on TV where one can watch five live matches from three different countries in a day.
Another contributing factor to those poor attendances is that we’re getting to a point where the games are packaged for TV and ignore the challenges that fans who go to the stadiums face, especially the unreliable public transport system that makes travelling at night a nightmare.
The moment we realise that we can cater for both fans, those who watch on TV and those who bother to go to the stadium, the better because it’s not a matter of having one over the other.
But it is a matter of complementing both so that the whole package looks good.
A packed stadium is not only good for those who experience a buzzing atmosphere at the venue, but it also makes for good TV, unlike watching a game with a handful of fans in an environment so dead that you can hear the sound of the ball being kicked.
A lot more consideration needs to be given to travelling fans since our football landscape isn’t based on people backing the team from their city which means there is a lot of travelling involved.
Fans who intend to watch the game on TV will do so, not just because the game is being shown on prime time.
But the time of a match has a huge impact to the fans who are travelling to the venue. They have a lot to consider before making the trip.
The Premier Soccer League’s multi-billion rand deal with SuperSport is good for the game. It saw teams get paid more in terms of their monthly grants, which translates to improved salaries for the players.
But that money also saw clubs not pay much attention to filling stadiums as they are guaranteed a steady income that can see them survive without an increased revenue from gate takings.
SuperSport got their monies worth with the growth of subscribers due to their acquisition of the rights of the domestic league.
But that progress is being threatened by the very people who achieved it in their treatment of the fans who make the journey to the stadium, which is an expensive exercise.
It costs a single person in the Joburg CBD around R100 to watch a single game at Orlando Stadium, if you consider R20 for a return trip, R40 for a ticket and R40 for something to eat.
If that person attends three games a month, that’s R300 – a little under what some fans spend in their subscriptions.
It’s more if that person chooses to go with a companion.
If that fan were to say “bugger it, it’s better I watch the game from home,” they would save some money and we would lose another fan on the stands.
We need to do justice to the supporters who go to the stadium by scheduling matches in times that make it worth their while as their presence is a win-win for the broadcasters and those running the game.