Charity begins at the stadium

Soccer City will be packed for the kick-off to the 2010-11 season on Saturday, when four Premier Soccer League clubs contest the Charity Telkom Cup.

AmaZulu take on Orlando Pirates in the first semifinal, at 10am, followed by a clash between Kaizer Chiefs and Mamelodi Sundowns at 12pm.

The winners meet in the final later in the afternoon.

PSL chief operating officer Ronnie Schloss said the 94 000-seater stadium that was the venue for the opening and closing ceremonies of the Soccer World Cup was completely sold out.

The league aimed to build on the interest generated by the tournament and keep fans attending matches.

“We have come up with several initiatives to fill the stadiums. It is our priority that spectators feel safe at all times. Fans can bring the whole family and enjoy the game,” he said.

Double headers would be an integral part of attracting more people. “We are starting the official season with a double header in Cape Town on August 27. Newcomers Vasco da Gama will play Orlando Pirates, followed by Ajax Cape Town facing ­Bloemfontein Celtics.”

Schloss emphasised the need for clubs to play attractive football to consolidate the effort of his executive to keep numbers up.

“It will count for little if the level of football is poor. Fans pay to be entertained and clubs must meet us halfway by ensuring that their teams play attacking football. If fans are treated to good football, they will fill up the stadiums.”

The maintenance of the massive stadiums built around the country for the World Cup has been a controversial issue, with public concern that they will be reduced to white elephants after the event.

The sell-out crowd for the Charity Cup has given hope that, with innovative ideas, World Cup facilities can be kept adequately busy.

The running costs of keeping Soccer City in top condition have been estimated at between R25-million and R30-million a year. That astronomical figure has played a large part in keeping crowd pullers like Chiefs and Pirates away from adopting the attractive stadium as their home ground. Pirates have opted for Orlando Stadium, while Kaizer Chiefs are set to use Rand Stadium for most of their games.

The response to this weekend’s Charity Cup has offered some reprieve to National Stadium Management SA, the company that will manage the stadium. The Fifa World Cup buzz seems to have continued its momentum to the usually poorly attended PSL matches.

“We have always said that the PSL will support the new infrastructure when possible, as we have demonstrated this weekend,” the league’s chief executive, Kjetil Siem, told the M&G this week.

He said the association was exploring other matches that could be played at the big stadium. “We cannot force clubs to play there. The PSL executive controls only the semifinals and finals of cup competitions.”

The sold out Nedbank Cup final between AmaZulu and Bidvest Wits in May had the honour of being the first match to be played at the World Cup flagship. In fact, all the events at Soccer City since its facelift have taken place in front of a full house.
The tickets for the Springbok Tri-Nations Test against the mighty All Blacks scheduled for August 21 have also been snapped up.

The league paid R800 000 for the use of the stadium this weekend and, if the South Africa Rugby Union coughs up the same amount, just two events will go a fair way to covering running costs.

The question arises whether it is sustainable in the long run? Wits and AmaZulu do not command a big following and the sole reason for people pouring through the turnstiles was the historic significance of it being the first match played at the venue of the World Cup final.

The Charity Cup offers football fans the best hangover combination after the excitement of the Cup. For the prize of one, fans will get to watch three matches, not to mention the fact that Kaizer Chiefs and Pirates are taking part. Schloss believes Soccer City is a viable entity if the football fraternity borrows heavily from the international tournament.

“The organisational standards must be similar to those experienced during Cup matches,” he said.

To meet the standards set in that month of top football, the league has pledged to improve the public transport system for the Charity Cup.

“Trains will be free for ticket holders and will run from Park Station to Soccer City on Saturday. We have arranged for six trains to leave straight after the game,” said Schloss. “Each train transports 2 500 passengers. Moreover, a bus service will run simultaneously, with fans expected to pay for the service. “We want to bring efficiency and fun back to our matches. A family section has been reserved at the stadium that will be equipped with child minders, jumping castles and cart rides,” Schloss said.

With a hike in match-entrance fees looming, it remains to be seen whether these measures will be enough to prevent the bumper crowd from being a once off.

“The present R20 for a match is simply too little to keep the clubs afloat. The PSL has been sympathetic to the plight of fans for the past three years. That is why there hasn’t been any increment in that period.

“Even if there are 20 000 fans at the stadium, the clubs make only about R400 000 at this fee, barely enough to cover security. There are many other expenses, including the medical team and lights, that must also be paid for at each game,” Schloss said.

In a move to attract the middle classes to the stadium and cushion the clubs, the league is considering at the very least doubling the entrance fee.

Schloss said that while the league didn’t believe the increment would erode the support base of traditional fans, who fall below the middle-income bracket, it was a necessary measure as the clubs couldn’t carry on making losses.

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Percy Zvomuya
Percy Zvomuya is a writer and critic who has written for numerous publications, including Chimurenga, the Mail & Guardian, Moto in Zimbabwe, the Sunday Times and the London Review of Books blog. He is a co-founder of Johannesburg-based writing collective The Con and, in 2014, was one of the judges for the Caine Prize for African Writing.

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