Three reasons AFCON 2019 attendance average worsens
As the Pharaohs bade farewell to the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations last weekend, it brought about a fall in the average attendance at the continent’s showpiece football tournament. With local fans showing disdain for the visiting top African teams, Egypt’s games were the only ones that had a nearly full house. An average of 74,271 fans saw the Pharaohs play their four games at the Cairo International Stadium before they were knocked out by South Africa.
While the other group games saw 9,365 fans on average. The games between Algeria and Senegal and Morocco vs Ivory Coast were the other stand out ones with 25,000 to 27,000 spectators in the first round. Sadly, a classic like Ghana vs Cameroon (with nine AFCON titles between them) had a very low number of spectators in Ismailia.
Once Egypt exited the competition, attendance at the Cairo International plunged to 48,343 fans for the quarterfinal game between Nigeria and South Africa ensuring that the tournament would continue to look bad on television. The crowd would have felt novel for the Nigerians whose highest audience had been 10,388 fans when they beat Guinea in their second Group B game in Alexandria. However, on TV, it was bad. With the home team no longer in contention, attendances would continue to fall as local fans’ apathy deepens.
Perhaps the remaining North African representation in Algeria and Tunisia could keep some of the local interest going. Egyptian journalist, Marwan Saeed of Kingfut.com told me earlier in the week that many local fans would show support for their Mahgrebian neighbours if they progress. Several media platforms have tried to explain why the stadiums of Egypt have been largely empty since the start of the AFCON.
Ticket prices have been unusually high for locals who have been known to be a football crazy population. Tickets sold for between 4,300 and 53,700 Naira for Egypt games and between 2,150 and 10,740 Naira for other games meant that many fans have been priced out of the competition in a country where the minimum wage is 62,292 Naira.
Local teams Al Ahly and Zamalek regularly filled up the 75,000-capacity Cairo International Stadium before the Arab Spring and the politicization of football in Egypt. I watched a packed game between Egypt and Italy in that stadium 10 years ago during the FIFA U20 World Cup. The experience of enjoying the game with that many people felt amazing. But that was all before the Arab Spring. Stadium visits have since become riskier after more than 100 fans died in crowd disturbance incidents in 2012 and 2015 at local league games.
The introduction of Fan IDs, an adoption from the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia, has also meant that many fans will not be bothered to go through the tedious online process. Without Fan IDs, fans are unable to purchase tickets to the games and would rather watch at home and at street cafes. The clumsy process has left the tournament bare according to a report by the Arab News website, with empty seats staring at fans watching on TV all over the world.
Writing in a widely published opinion piece this week, Dr Victor Oladokun, Director of Communications and External Relations of the African Development Bank (AfDB), situated the apathy in Egypt with the larger problems faced by sports businesses across the continent. Dr Oladokun noted that due to Africans now having access to the better-packaged European professional leagues, it is increasingly difficult to give them under-valued sporting products. The growth in digital platforms also means that domestic sports events are competing against better-developed events in the global space.
While it is nice to see the AfDB engage with the African sports space, in the face of the difficulties being faced and in light of the opportunities available for sport on the continent, one would like to know what the bank has planned for the development of sports. Like it or not, sports is big business and the moment that an institution like the African Development Bank and other corporations take an interest in the industry the better it is for everyone involved. It will inform sports administrators that they cannot continue to do business as usual per the scandals that have emanated out of the Confederation of Africa Football Executive Committee in recent weeks.
As the AFCON enters its final stages this weekend, we will have to live down the fact that the arenas will remain scanty without the hosts. It is time to reimagine how to engage with the fans of African football. How to keep ticket prices within the reach of locals in order to ensure their buy-in and sustained interest in a competition like the AFCON is important. And we might also ask the question, is it that Egyptians just do not care enough for other Africans to pay to see their teams play? It could determine where we look to host future tournaments.