Only 56 606 ticket holders have gone to the stadiums over the past five days to watch the first 10 matches of the African Nations Championship (Chan) currently being held in South Africa.
Tournament organisers claim to be comfortable but not happy with the figures.
Even before the tournament kicked off last Saturday, organisers aired their fears around slow ticket sales. Critics have blasted poor organisation and marketing of the Chan and predicted the empty seats would be the order of the day. And indeed empty seats have been beamed across television screens.
Chan is reserved for players plying their trade within the boundaries of their country of birth. It kicked off in Cape Town on Saturday with a match between Bafana Bafana and Mozambique, which Bafana won 3-1.
The matches are played in Cape Town, Mangaung and Polokwane.
The chief executive officer of the local organising committee Mvuzo Mbebe said the 56 606 spectators who have gone through the turnstiles since the tournament started exclude VVIPs and the various commercial hospitalities.
"We can add possibly another 5 000 in there to take you to about 60 000 people that have actually attended; not people who bought tickets or had tickets distributed to them," he told journalists in Parliament on Thursday morning.
Mbebe said that they had wanted to average between 10 000 and 15 000 in the opening stages. "We are reaching that mark at this stage in terms of average."
He said they have handed out 18 000 free tickets per match since the third game of the tournament. His revelation came in a response to Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula, who put Mbebe on the spot during the press conference and instructed him to distribute 10 000 to 15 000 free tickets at each game, especially to scholars.
"From our side we are relatively comfortable, yes we would like to see some improvement in certain areas and we are working hard to make sure there is increased attendance even at this first round stage."
He defended their attendance targets, saying they were not low.
He said on average, their target was to make sure that between 40% and 60% of the stadium has got people in it.
"So, if you take Athlone Stadium, it's got a seating capacity of 17 000; if you take Mangaung, it has a seating capacity of about 30 000 to 32 000, and the same thing with Polokwane.
"That's where it comes from. It's not a target that is low. We are talking about 50% to 60% of the people being in those stadiums. We must not take Cape Town Stadium because it is an outlier in terms of its capacity at 50 000," said Mbebe.
He said the number of tickets sold for the first five match days was 100 757, with 56% turning out. "People mustn't just get tickets; they must come to the stadiums."
Mbebe said they are going to intensify the marketing campaign but as the tournament progresses and team qualifications become clear, it should have an impact on ticket sales.
He said one of the challenges of the double header games is that people who bought tickets would be interested in one of the matches, and either come on time for the second match or leave early when the first match ends. So, the stadium would not be really full.
Mbebe said while 15 000 went through the turnstiles at the Cape Town Stadium on Wednesday, about 10 000 people attended the Bafana and Mali match, while about 5 000 arrived late for the later match. But by that time, some who arrived early were leaving.
Mbalula spoke about the importance of the tournament for soccer development and how a better performing Bafana team could help improve the ticket sales.
"Anyone who seeks to suggest that the tournament has got no meaning, should be somewhere in Siberia or is politically illiterate at best. Chan is very important for the development of players but at the same time to showcase the domestic leagues," he said.
Asked what he thought of Bafana's chances in the tournament, he responded: "Bafana Bafana will make you to have hypertension … when you didn't have to.
"When you are a host, you are not supposed to struggle and to use sangoma predictions … you are supposed to be clear, know your football and you've got support! Just win.
"If the president can get into your dressing room to support you, I'm not sure whether anyone will ever make an impact."
Mbalula said he was confident the team would rise to the occasion.