So often the question gets posed to me, “Why aren’t there more people at soccer stadiums in South Africa?” It’s such a tricky question to answer because there is no one thing that is responsible for low attendance figures. If anything, it’s a myriad of factors that result in almost embarrassing average attendance figures around our country each week.
Some might argue that there is just no interest in the PSL. That is one excuse I can blow away. That DStv’s SuperSport would pay millions and millions for the TV rights to the PSL is proof enough that they know there are more than enough people in this country who want local football. The fact that over three million people read Soccer-Laduma each week is a pretty convincing number that backs up the passion that exists for the PSL. That the Soccer-Laduma digital platforms got 39 million page impressions last month blows away any argument that there is general apathy from the public towards the PSL.
Yes, ticket prices must be a factor. Yes, the fact that teams change their home venues and rarely seem to identify with a community and stick with it must be a factor. Possibly even that with the offering on SuperSport, local fans can sit in the comfort of their own homes and flick between Ajax v Sundowns, Manchester United v Manchester City and Barcelona v Real Madrid, could be a factor. But, despite all these factors, perhaps the one that is most lacking from clubs to their supporters is simply taking time to find out what works for their supporters on game day and what doesn’t. It’s really just showing them respect and love. I truly feel if you do this, no matter how ‘small’ you are, no matter how ‘unpopular’ your team may be deemed, if you do the right things, if you build that trust and offer that respect to your supporters, they will come.
Often in this column, myself or one of the other Soccer-Laduma scribes will talk about the ‘big’ teams or the national team, and sometimes we tend to err on the side of pointing out the negatives. This time round I think it’s time to dedicate this column to a so-called small team who are doing everything right - Wits football club. In their most recent game against Ajax Cape Town, also a so-called ‘small team’, Wits were able to put up the ‘Sold Out’ sign for the game. Now granted with around a 5 500 capacity - some might say that filling a stadium like that isn’t the hardest thing to do. But I would challenge any club in SA, take the home games against Chiefs, Pirates and Sundowns out of the equation and show me an average home attendance of 5 500. I’m not sure there is a club out there who could do that. Maybe Bloem Celtic who just have the most amazing fans, but Wits must be lauded for what they are doing.
Yes, part of it may be the fact that Gavin Hunt is a big name signing. Part of it may be that Wits have brought in some big name players, and part of it may be the fact that Wits are being touted as real title contenders this season. Winning is important in getting numbers into the stadium. Fans want to be associated with winning teams. But I think the most important ingredient that Wits have added to their marketing strategy this season is relationship-building with their immediate community. Wits are actively engaging with their student base and with the surrounding communities. Showing that they care is working.
I hope the other PSL clubs are taking note. It’s not because Wits are on the cover of Soccer-Laduma, it’s not because Wits are in every web story Soccer-Laduma publishes. It has nothing to do with media hype. Wits are doing it for themselves. And like I tell many of the club PROs who complain that we don’t help them fill their stadiums because we show them no love in Soccer-Laduma. The media do not build fan bases, clubs do. And when we see full stadiums, we can’t ignore them, because their fans are our readers, and so if they build it, we will come!
Big ups, Wits!
Follow Clint on Twitter: @SoccaClint