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Premier league clubs sweat over spectators: As financial burden bites (1)

BY: Kwame Larweh
The deteriorated Esipon stadium in Sekondi in the Western Region is a sorry sight and a put-off for many supporters

“Only 188 tickets were sold at the Cape Coast Stadium on Saturday when Hearts of Oak played Tamale City. Gross amount realised was GH¢2,290.Hearts got GH¢417.50, NSA got GH¢ 60,” Sources have hinted.

“The impact of low attendance for Kotoko is really significant; in our most recent two games, we received GH¢15,000 after expenses,” David Obeng Nyarko, Communications and Brands Manager of Kumasi Asante Kotoko.

Record low turnouts have characterised this year’s Ghana Premier League. The two big clubs Kumasi Asante Kotoko and Accra Hearts of Oak have not been spared in spite of their massive support base nationwide.

The two are reeling under the non-existence of their supporters during their matches and have wasted no time in telling Ghanaians about their plight.

Some suggest there is a general apathy towards the sport in the country generated by the misbehaviour of the Black Stars at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

Coupled with this, others point to the dire economic condition faced by many in the country, and the uninhabitable nature of stadia across the country make fans less eager to watch a match live at the stadium.

If this trend continues, experts say, clubs will struggle to pay salaries of players and officials while maintenance of the stadia will be an albatross on the neck of the National Sports Authority (NSA).

Needless to say in decades past, clubs did not rely on only gate proceeds to pay salaries of players. Salaries were mainly from corporate sponsorships.

However, sponsors flow in on the back of the massive presence of fans to push their products, which sponsors leverage to create the needed mileage for the brands.

Sponsorship deals for Ghanaian clubs, even in monetary terms comes close to nothing as compared to European, Asia and American teams.

Aside from Hearts and Kotoko who are able to leverage on their huge following and few other clubs who have cultivated some form of sponsorship, majority of the clubs struggle to raise the needed capital for their day-to-day operations.

The presence of fans at the stadia soothes the myriad of troubles these clubs and players go through. It comforts them and as they are cheered on by their fans they are well motivated to play.

Gate fees charged at many stadia in Ghana range from a minimum of GH¢20 to GH¢ 100 or more depending on the competitiveness of a fixture and especially games that have linkages to old rivalries such as Kotoko and Hearts, or Hearts versus Olympics.

But the amount charged at the gate is not the reason fans aren’t trooping to match venues to cheer on their clubs; neither is it the current precarious economic situation.

Many football fans told the Graphic Business that the lack of quality on the pitch, player exodus and bad officiating accounted for their refusal to watch matches at the stadium.

“ I would rather bet or engage in sports betting than go and watch a football match in Ghana. They are not any better football, the quality players and coaches are not there,” Aboagye Dacosta, a trader at Kwame Nkrumah Circle, told the Graphic Business.

A trader at Kantamanto, a local market in Accra, Maame Gyasiwaa, recalled to the Graphic Business that while she hears of skilled footballers and goalscorers such as Joe Fameyeh, Kwadwo Poku and Ishmael Addo, she hardly hears of any quality player in the league in recent times.

Added to this, the nation’s overconcentration on football as the only discipline in the country as against the other 43 sporting disciplines in the country has caused many other sports fans to loathe football in the country and dislike the idea of going to watch a football match, most importantly to support the national football teams.

Some football fans think the current harsh economic climate doesn’t favour spending GH¢20 to watch a football match which currently provides less excitement as there are no notable local superstars or players or general tactical formations on the field of play.

But the problem with lack of spectators at match venues goes beyond Hearts and Kotoko. It does not even fall under the remit of the Ghana Football Association (GFA).

In the words of president Simeon Kurt Okraku “Our fans are absent, our spectators are absent, we are playing football, we are doing the business of football but our fans are not consuming our football. It should be a concern to every club owner that your fans are far away from your clubs and this is not the responsibility of the FA. It’s your (clubs’) responsibility, there are other competing entertainment opportunities for every person and if you are not practical, proactive and don’t put up strategies that will bring back your fans believe me, your fans will not come. We need to be pragmatic, scientific and we need to go back to the basics on how to win the twelfth man back into our football. Usually, it’s very normal for everybody to point fingers at Ghana FA but it’s a lie. It’s your time to do some work, it’s your time as club owners and executives to listen to your fans, go to your fans, find their worries, and this is a challenge I throw to each one of us. We love our football; we want more money in football but we can’t be sleeping. We have to think about how to win the supporters back to the stadium”.

Again a former chairman of the Ghana League Clubs Association (GHALCA), Alhaji Ali Raji, simply puts the situation to lack of quality on the pitch. “The quality is not there, we don’t have any quality players; the E-ticketing, we are not well used to it but the major problem is quality, we don’t have quality players to attract the fans,” he told the Graphic Business.

However, albeit the clubs have a role, it is not even the club’s duty. This canker is a symptom of how as a nation we have seen football to mean Black Stars and ganged up with some self-seeking elements in the discipline to use the Black Stars as their money making machine at the detriment of the nationwide love and support of the beautiful game.

Football in Ghana is not what we have come to know in Europe and other continents. In Ghana it is Black Stars and loads of investment into one subset of the larger set.

Elsewhere football is everything that comes with the beautiful game and accompanies it. The needed investments and cash inflows are made and the dividends are derived from such.

Until authorities and stakeholders make a concerted effort at growing the game holistically which is to develop football from the grass roots, place emphasis on all genders, talent harnessing and eschew the mono-sport (football) mentality of successive governments, the apathy toward the sport and unattractiveness to the beautiful game in the country shall persist.

Developing football through the lenses of women and men’s game, growing grass roots football and harnessing talents, the premier league will wither and go into a state of oblivion.