BY BOTLHALE KOOTHUPILE
The idiom ‘it is a numbers game,’ is one of the most common uttered in the terraces of football when talking of the value of supporters to the game.
Supporters are the life blood of sport, and football in particular. The growth of football is solely centred on the notion of it being a sport of the masses.
It is the supporters who drive whatever idea of commercialisation an individual club, a league or a football association may harbour.
The extent to which a club can grow in value and be self sustaining is determined by its support base and match attendance, which then determines the gate taking and merchandise sales.
This in turn determines the quality of the football product, and eventually, the television viewership as well as the star attraction for sponsors to affiliate with the football product.
With two of the best supported teams in the just ended league, Mochudi Centre Chiefs and Sankoyo Bush Bucks relegated to the lower league, the Botswana Premier League (BPL) will have its work cut out for it as it seeks to ensure teams bring numbers to the matches.
For the past two seasons, the numbers of supporters attending premier league matches has dwindled, something which has been of concern to the BPL secretariat.
This is perhaps the reason why as many football administrators believe the dwindling of the numbers of supporters is related to the quality of local football product.
“Unfortunately, if we look back two or three seasons ago, the quality of our football product has fallen drastically. We do not have a sellable football product,” one administrator opined.
And it is perhaps the very same reason that the Botswana Football Association (BFA) president MaClean Letshwiti laid into the BPL and its teams to improve the quality of the product if they want to professionalise the league.
In his remarks during the BTC Premiership awards this past Thursday, Letshwiti opined that if ‘the quality of the product is good,’ it would attract supporters and sponsors.
In fact, the BFA president was of the view that sponsors ‘would not run away from the league or football’ if the quality was good.
Reached for comment, the BPL Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Thabo Ntshinogang acknowledged that the support of the league has been dwindling over the past season.
“Losing Chiefs and Sankoyo, which were one of the best supported teams is indeed a blow. But even then, during the course of last season, the numbers of support given to these teams was dwindling as they continued to struggle,” the BPL CEO opined.
However, given that the majority of teams which will turn up when the league season starts, Ntshinogang is well aware a lot needs to be done to bring supporters back if the premier league and teams are to be sustainable.
“For us as the league, it is very important that we have numbers at our games. Having numbers will be good for the image of the premier league,” he said.
Ntshinogang is well aware with the improved image and numbers, the league will be able to negotiate better with sponsors as it will be able to quantify the value it can bring to the sponsor.
“And it will be even more importance for teams to have numbers in their support base. If teams have numbers, that will translate into more gate takings and teams will also be able to sell merchandise,” he continued.
On whether the BPL has a strategy in place to help bring supporters back to the game, the BPL CEO said it is mainly the responsibility of the teams to do such.
“It is the responsibility of the team administrators to go on a recruitment drive for supporters,” he said. “As the BPL, we cannot recruit supporters for teams. All we can do is to train our administrators as well as ensure the games are taken to supporters,” said Ntshinogang.
He concurred that for teams to retain and attract supporters, there has to be a quality product both at club level and at league level.
“If a team is competitive enough, it will appeal to supporters. Supporters want to be associated with a winning team or competitive team. If neither is offered, supporters will disappear,” the BPL CEO explained.
“Even supporters who cannot attend games regularly affiliate to competitive or winning teams and contribute towards its sustainability. Today, most of people buy merchandise of teams which they are unlikely to attend games of. By buying the merchandise, they contribute towards the team’s growth. This can also happen here for our teams,” he said.
Going into the next season and beyond, the BPL CEO said it is imperative that supporters be lured back to the game.
“If we can bring supporters back to the game, it will only make the teams thrive and the standard of the league and play will improve,” he concluded.