Sikhumbuzo Moyo, Senior Sports Reporter
LATE last year when the Ministry of Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation put across a proposal to Zifa to adopt a bio-bubble concept for the return of football, which remains in abyss due to the Covid-19 outbreak, there was an outcry from most fans and some clubs.
Fans were eager to cheer on their favourite teams in the stadia, while for clubs it was an issue of potential revenue lost.
This week the outcry grew even louder after Minister Kirsty Coventry told Parliament that sport will soon return, but with no spectators in a bid to avoid giving oxygen to the virus.
While other sports rarely rely on paying fans, it is the most followed game, football, which probably “needs” fans the most.
But looking critically into this issue, how crucial is the presence of fans, especially in terms of sustaining a football club?
Is revenue generated from gate takings enough to keep a football club afloat or it’s a mere supplement?
Besides the “Big Three”, Highlanders, Dynamos and Caps United, which of the other 15 clubs in the Premier Soccer League can average 5 000 fans in all their home matches unless when they’re playing host to the Big Three?
Even the Big Three can maintain or increase the number of paying fans only on condition of good results are coming their way. If that doesn’t happen, the impatient fans, especially those from Highlanders, simply stay away.
In 2018 when Highlanders hired Madinda Ndlovu as head coach, the PSL reported that a total of 442 808 fans paid to watch all the league’s matches that season, with Bosso accounting for 117 832 fans.
That was due to a good first-half of the season performance by Tshilamoya, with the highest figures recorded against Dynamos (13 023), Caps United (11 954), Chicken Inn (10 477) and Shabanie Mine ( 9 679).
However, figures dramatically plummeted in the second-half of the season because of constant poor showing by Bosso, with their tie against Yadah recording 2 536 fans, Harare City (2 862) and the derby against Bulawayo City attracting 3 829 paying fans.
As is the norm, when a team plays at home, its next match is on the road and suppose Bosso were travelling to Mutare after hosting Yadah; would revenue from 2 536 fans meet their travelling and accommodation costs?
Certainly not; and remember too that the Yadah match would have been won, meaning winning bonuses for players.
So what is the fear of playing in an empty stadium? It is also known that an away team gets nothing from gate takings, with the only comfort being moral support from their supporters.
A Bulawayo-based executive committee member of one of the so-called small teams in terms of support base, said for them, playing without fans will not be an issue because such has been a norm, adding that it will actually save them money they would have used for hiring security and other service providers.
“For us the so-called small teams, we only get an income when we play the big three at home, so it’s three times a year. All our other games are loss-making games and we can’t pay service providers, the police, referees, ambulance and venue hire, from gate takings. The club has a budget to pay these from its own pocket.
“Zifa, SRC and PSL don’t get any levy from other home games besides the three. So basically for small teams like us, it’s an advantage and cheap to play away because we don’t pay anything and also an advantage to play in an empty stadium because service providers like the police, cashiers, PSL security, ticket costs and chief cashiers, club treasurer and so forth, will be reduced. As long as referees will be paid by Zifa or PSL, there is no loss,” said the official.
He acknowledged that while their sponsors and partners get some mileage from the few spectators, it could still be a plus for them as long as the matches are streamed live.
“So basically gate takings don’t take us far as a club besides when playing the cash cows at home,” he said.
So it’s likely to be Bosso, DeMbare and Makepekepe that will feel the pinch of playing in an empty stadium, but it’s also a huge opportunity for the traditional giants to make their presence felt on social media.
On their part, the PSL must allow clubs to beam their own matches so that the clubs’ sponsors and partners get the necessary mileage and visibility.
Yes, there has been talk of engaging national broadcaster ZBC, but will it be able to beam all matches every weekend?
Cries by fans are understandable because they really miss the game, but for teams, this could be a blessing in disguise to add some impetus to their marketing ingenuity and who knows, maybe when things get back to normal, money from gate takings could as well be extra funds for other projects, and not for sustaining the institutions.