The empty seat syndrome: ways to get fans back to our stadia

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The lack of fan attendance in the recently concluded AFCON 2019 finals has obvious economic and financial implications across the sports value chain for team owners, sports federations and confederations, players, sponsors, advertising and marketing agencies, merchandisers, vendors, and local communities who once counted on fan attendance to boost fledgling economies.

The slide in fan attendance, especially within our African continent, can be attributed majorly to poor facilities. Lack of reliable transportation to and from venues, high ticket cost and technology have also resulted in the low turnout, especially during major continental tournaments.

So, what can be done to reverse the trend? Here are 5 quick suggestions.

It can no longer be business as usual. 

Africa must run sports as a professional business. This includes the right infrastructure, training facilities, attractive pay scales for professional athletes who now consider anything less than a European league appearance, a professional failure.
Regrettably, as with Africa’s overall propensity to simply export raw materials instead of adding value to what we produce, we are doing the same with football and many other sports. Africa has a tremendous abundance of potential talent that for the most part (with the exception of South Africa, Kenya and Ethiopia) we add little or no value to. Instead, millions of genetically blessed athletes are simply waiting or begging to be ‘found’ on the cheap by European and American sports teams. Why? Simply because we fail to see diamonds in the rough and because we are unable to add value to the potential of what for now seems to be rough stones.

Give back to the fans

Essentially, engagement in the 21st century must change. It’s time to give something back to fans rather than fleecing them at every opportunity with sub-standard services and products. It would seem to me that sports teams could offer something as simple as raffle draws that reward fans with extra game tickets, signed player jerseys, visits with select players, or products from local sponsors. Professional marketing firms can come up with an endless list.

Make sports big and make it a win-win proposition. 

Real Madrid F.C. and Barcelona F.C. for example, are not owned by a few rich individuals. Instead, they are owned and supported by thousands of shareholders known as ‘socios.’ Across Africa, it’s time to change the numbers game – in ownership, money, and attendance – by giving fans a seat at the table.

Modern and professionally maintained facilities

In sizzling hot Africa, we must invest in covered stadia. When I can sit in front of my big screen TV in my air conditioned living room, why would I want to subject myself to temperatures that I swear have gone up a number of notches in recent years?

Sport is a spectacle. This includes everything including pre-event and half time entertainment to keep fans with short attention spans upbeat and engaged.

These are just a few quick ideas. However, the running of sports in general and football in particular as a business and a brand proposition, will require honest analysis, political and financial will, and a collective approach.