I have, over the last few weeks, restricted myself from getting involved in the debate on how attendance at our various match venues have been poor this season. But a recent Facebook post by my little brother and junior colleague Awal Mohammed Hudu has forced me from my hiding place.
Perhaps, for the first time in the history of Ghana football, we need an academic analysis of the situation and proffer solutions to the unending canker of poor attendance at GPL games.
Many, as usual, have been quick to blame the Ghana Football Association for the poor attendance at our league games, failing to really ascertain the underpinning causes of the terrible canker to reach a proper solution.
The FA has always been the easy targets so all will just run to their door to start knocking but the real causes of the situation aren’t far-fetched.
As a religious follower of the GPL and someone who have covered the local league over a decade, I can unequivocally say that there are indicators to how the stands swell up on match days. Do you recall the Kenichi Yatsuhashi era in 2015, that came along with big names like Mustapha Essuman, Eric Bekoe, Sadick Adams, Kwasi Donsu, Yahaya Mohammed, Tetteh Nortey, etc in the league? Well, those were/are some of the indicators.
In a post on his wall on Facebook, Awal Mohammed posted pictures of fans at a community game, juxtaposing it with GPL games and finally calling out how unattractive the league has been hence the poor attendance. That shot kicked me out of my hole.
Yes, there is a problem and majority of the problem is us. Yes, you and me; the sports media. We spent years denigrating and destroying the product and we are here crying. Let’s not blame anyone. We have ourselves to blame. The same league that is recording few numbers in the stands recorded thousands just last year. What have we done in changing the narrative?
The poor numbers in the stands is a problem that can be solved scientifically and we, the media, have a key role to play in there.
First, we need to find the cause. We can only solve the problem when we find the cause: and we are number 1. We denigrate the league and also fail to educate the fans on why attendance is going down and what they can do to improve it. Yes it’s not all the journalists in the sports media who have been denigrating the league but if an elder permits kids to eat snake, he’s counted as one of the eaters.
None of the ‘professional’ sports journalists was able to caution Patrick Osei Agyemang when he used his platform and airtime to denigrate the same product that feeds all of us. None! Some even hailed him. Karma is real and so, a few days ago, the same person was seen begging fans to go back to the stands to patronise games. If someone had warned him to stop denigrating the league yesterday because it will haunt him today, he wouldn’t have accepted. But Karma has been quick in forcing him to fall on his knees. ‘Anbuura-uba.’
Of course, some of the media houses and persons have done incredibly well to make our league what it is today. But the silence of the wise makes the fool a ruler.
Apart from the bad posture of Osei Agyemang which was replicated by some ignorant ones, there are many other reasons for the poor attendance at GPL games. I have already noted the x-factor element with the Kenichi scenario earlier and same is affecting us now. Take Kotoko for instance: where are all the players who led them to the league title, their coach and technical staff? You think the fans will run to the stands to watch lower division players who have no image in the minds of the fans? Where is Fabio Gama? Where is Mudasiru? Ganiu, Kwame Baah, etc? who was Kotoko’s poster boy last season? Mbella right? Where is he? Same applies to Hearts and by extension, all the clubs. All these contribute to the poor attendance.
Now, the following:
1. We are sharing the football viewing space with other leagues in the world so obviously, attendance will reduce. This was not the case some time ago. There must be a national agenda to control the free flow of foreign football in this country and reduce the easy access to foreign football. Several internet apps are available for every Tom, Dick and Harry to watch football games free. This will obviously affect our stadium attendance. We don’t need a rocket scientist to tell us this. At least even if you never attended school before, can’t you identify a Whiteman?
2. The economic conditions of the country has a direct impact on our football. Most of the people who will be trooping to the stadium to watch matches have a lot to handle in terms of bills. Food, accommodation, clothes, education, transportation, health have become so expensive that the fight is for SURVIVAL and not about football. So until the economy of the country is back on its feet, we have to manage.
3. A large section of the media will choose to report and emphasize on a fan who threw a stone on the pitch than a player who scored a hat trick in a game. We have to revise our reporting strategies. Elsewhere, we see them deliberately censoring bad images from their game and giving us only the good and attractive ones. We can do same. It must not always be about who speaks against the GFA. Colleagues must not only be interested in attacking the GFA always to be hailed but must practice what the profession dictates; that social responsibility.
4. Games are now on tv, always. This has limited the interest of people to go to the stadiums to watch games. Clubs must look at maximizing profit from their TV rights since most of the fans will watch their games on tv instead of the stadiums. Previously, there were no games on tv as we have today so fans had no options. That’s not so today. Why must Asante Kotoko and Hearts of Oak agree to share TV Rights sponsorship package equally? This, in my opinion, isn’t right. Tv rights sponsorship must be shared according to the number of games televised. Kotoko and Hearts have all their games broadcast live in the season with others having about 5 or 6 games shown. Why must their packages be the same? Also, a lot of the guys who say the league is unattractive beam matches on their YouTube channels for people to watch free as they make money. How much do they give to the clubs? Nothing! Yet, their acts of showing games on YouTube is stopping people from attending games. The same people will turn around and say fans aren’t patronizing our games.
6. Insecurity and our stadium architecture are key to this current canker of poor attendance. We have match venues that aren’t security friendly. Even after sad and horrible May 9th experience, despite all that we saw, police still go to stadium with guns and tear gas. Who wants to go to the stadium and die? U think people will be interested in going to the stadium when the police are dressed like UN peacekeepers going to stop wars in Iraq? No way! When u drive your own vehicle to the stadium, u don’t have peace of mind to watch games because buglers will break your windows to still your belongings. When u are lucky and no one steals from your car, you have 90 minutes more to wait in traffic to get home. All these are contributors to the declining numbers in our stadiums. We need a systemic revolution.
We can change the narrative and fill the stands with the power we have as the media but we have to start with ourselves and observe our core mandate of educating and informing the public.
…together we can do better. Yes we can!
By: Sheikh Tophic Sienu
(Editor, Football Writer and TV Sports Pundit)