In just three weeks Soccer City is expected to be full again for the Charity Cup. It is the unique all-day event that is the traditional season opener, but this year it carries much more resonance as the watermark that signals the post-World Cup era.
The plan is to sell 70 000 tickets for the event on August 7 but it could go up to 90 000 if demand requires, according to league officials.
If so, that will set a new attendance record for Soccer City, and indeed South African sport, because Fifa kept the number of tickets for their matches at the iconic Johannesburg venue firmly pegged at 84 500.
PSL teams have already returned from their holidays and are all in pre-season training. There have been two dramatic coaching changes in the wake of the firing of two former Bafana Bafana captains. Neil Tovey’s end at AmaZulu came, despite his taking them to May’s Cup final, but Steve Komphela’s departure from Platinum Stars was more predictable after they had lost seven games on the trot at the end of the last campaign.
Mamelodi Sundowns have yet to announce their new coach but Miguel Lopez, who was Hristo Stoichkov’s assistant last season, has been taking their training all week and should be unveiled when owner Patrice Motsepe is finally ready to address the media.
Champions SuperSport United came back from their off-season break just days into the World Cup, needing extra time to prepare for the new campaign because they start early, this weekend in fact, with an African Confederation Cup match against FUS Rabat from Morocco.
Low attendance numbers
The PSL will benefit from a World Cup legacy in terms of the new, renovated and upgraded stadiums and, in particular, the better pitches, although it remains to be seen whether they will be properly maintained without the pedantic Swiss head office breathing down the necks of local officials.
But the audience for local matches is unlikely to change its profile and the crisis on the terraces looks set to continue, despite such a good turn out for the World Cup.
Attendances at average PSL games continue to be ludicrously low. Only derby matches, key Cup games and the Charity event seem to be able to fill the stadiums.
Traditional football followers never had a fair chance to buy World Cup tickets and, as a result, the audience in the past month has been distinctly middle class — people who, in the main, have never been anywhere near a local league match.
It is unlikely the Premier Soccer League will be ready to attempt to entice some of this incidental audience to their games on a more regular basis. To capture the goodwill of the World Cup fever that permeated the racial divide and penetrated the suburbs would need a quick and clever marketing plan. But for all their regular chest thumping, the leaders of South African football remain reactive rather than proactive and have little appetite to look into the future and predict trends.
To fill the stadiums, football is still heavily reliant on Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates having a good season and being in contention for honours until the end of the campaign. That has not been the case for some. Both clubs have been overshadowed by SuperSport’s professionalism and Motsepe’s money.
The reason crowds have dwindled over the years is that the traditional township support base now has more interesting alternatives for its spare time and cash. In the main many have turned to sitting in front of the television for their footballing fix. It is cheaper … and far more pleasant.
Ajax Cape Town is a club trying to improve the conditions in their home ground on match days to attract family groups and they have had some previous success. But the experience of going to a PSL match is still blighted by dirty seats and toilets, no catering, haphazard security and the likelihood that someone has taken your seat and won’t move because there is no one to force him or her to do so.
Little incentive to improve
Clubs have learned to do without any real revenue from the turnstiles and to play to empty stadiums, so there is little incentive to improve.
The SuperSport television deal guarantees a R1-million monthly payout to each of the 16 league teams, money that has seen a better class of coach and player arrive in the past few years.
But there are also not enough marquee players and personalities to entice more fans to the stadiums. And if Bafana Bafana stars like Siphiwe Tshabalala, Katlego Mphela and Itulemeng Khune depart in the next few weeks there will be even less chance that the excitement of the World Cup will spill over to the benefit of the PSL.