“If you build it, they will come.” But what happens during the construction process? In the countdown to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, the domestic league is suffering from an attendance crisis. There are myriad reasons for why fans are staying away from the stadiums, but with the prestigious tournament offering huge levels of investment into the national game, will it help the Brasileirao through this difficult period?
Economic growth may have been rapid in Brazil in recent years but recent signs have showed that extra work will need to be done to keep such impressive rates of development. The country is without doubt better off than it was a few years ago, but inequality is still rife. With many people still earning minimum wage, supporting your club fervently can become a very expensive affair, particularly for the working class supporters that make up the vast majority of many Brazilian clubs’ fan bases.
Attendances have been damaged by high ticket prices making the act of going to the stadium too steep for many a supporter. Even on the big occasions, fans may be unable to justify the expenditure. This was displayed in the fact that only 7000 fans turned out to watch Botafogo take on Sao Paulo on the opening day of the 2012 season. But it is not only in ticket prices that fans are being alienated. Something as simple as purchasing the club shirt is absurdly expensive, frequently breaking the £60 mark.
Violence and organised supporters’ groups also keep more affluent members of society away from the grounds, despite that actual disruptions occur relatively infrequently. But even the occasional murder is still too much and while such issues exist, there will be a ceiling placed on the number of paying customers.
A level of disaffection with the game has also grown with the fickleness of supporters and clubs alike, with the continual arrival and departures of managers and players making it difficult for many clubs to hold a singular identity. The chopping and changing makes the team feel less tangible and therefore support of the club may waver. There have been positive signs recently as board members have shown a greater level of support for their coaches, and thus the hyperbole that can arise after a few negative results has subsided somewhat.
However, these are societal issues that financial investment is unlikely to repair. It may however still go some way in improving the dwindling attendances after the World Cup.
In preparation stadium closures have occurred across the country, forcing many clubs to vacate their home and find temporary residence. In Rio de Janeiro, the renovations of the iconic Marcana have meant that Fluminense and Flamengo have had to share Botafogo’s Engenhao stadium, causing real damage to the state of the pitch. But the problem has been even worse in Belo Horizonte, as the shutting down of the Mineirao forced Cruzeiro and Atletico Mineiro to play many of their home games last season in Sete Lagoas, 80 kilometres away from their home city (some games took place in Uberlandia, over 500km away).
This has been improved by the opening of the newly-renovated Independencia in Belo Horizonte, the home of the city’s third team, America Mineiro. Surely once all the stadiums undergoing work ahead of the World Cup re-open, numbers of fans at the games will once again be on the rise across all cities. Palmeiras are another team without a home though this is not due to the World Cup. While they await the opening of their new stadium they have been forced to play elsewhere and the weekend’s classico against Sao Paulo proved the damaging nature of being homeless as just over 8000 fans turned out for the derby game in Barueri, in the north-west of the city.
Numbers should be aided by the improvements in infrastructure that will come from the tournament. To accommodate the vast amounts of visitors, host cities will see improvements in their public transport networks in order to successfully shuttle fans across the city. With transport links running more regularly and able to carry more people, the task of getting to the stadium will be reduced and thus encouraging more to visit.
It will also make the problem of late kick offs less undesirable. With some matches commencing at close to 10pm simply for television purposes, fans are put off by the long and arduous journeys home. With the late night voyage home made that extra bit comfortable from World Cup investments even the latest off kick offs should prove less inconvenient. Worries over the readiness of the infrastructure for 2014 remain and the quality of public transport is integral to attendances. What good is a new stadium if no one can get to it?
The World Cup will go some way to restoring the number of supporters at grounds across the country for domestic games to a far more desirable level, however, it cannot be guaranteed that it will solve all the deeper rooted social problems that are keeping attendances low. Much more needs to be done.
When Charles Miller brought football to Brazil it was originally seen as an upper class sport, exclusive to the rich. If clubs continue to disrespect and alienate their fans by charging high prices for their affection, along with a failure to address the social issues that disrupt attendances, the game is in danger of relapsing and taking a hugely damaging backwards step despite the financial investment of the World Cup.
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