How Kenyan clubs can learn from Bundesliga and bring back fans to the stadiums

By Bismarck Mutahi: Sunday, April 7th 2019 at 17:33 GMT +3 | Sports
Gor Mahia fans. [BONIFACE OKENDO, STANDARD]

The Bundesliga has a slogan of ‘Football as it is meant to be’.

Just reading the slogan might not mean much, but until you get a feel of any match in the Bundesliga will you understand why they say it is ‘football as it is meant to be’.

First things first. Did you know that Bundesliga leads in the average attendance of fans in stadium as compared to the top four leagues in the world?

While there has been much hype around the English Premier League (EPL), it is only second to Bundesliga in terms of average attendance of 38,000 compared to the Bundesliga whose average is 43,000.

The Spanish LaLiga has an average attendance of 27,000, with Italy’s Serie A fourth with its average figure of 25,000. The French Ligue 1 is fifth with an average attendance of 22,000.

But then one may ask, what is Bundesliga doing that other leagues have failed and, more so, what can our own Sportpesa Premier League (SPL) do to ensure we at least have an average attendance of even 10,000 and make football as it is meant to be?

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Remember Gor Mahia, which is Kenya’s most followed club, has an average attendance of between 5,000- 7,000.

According to Borussia Dortmund managing director Carsten Cramer, there can’t be football without fans and they always strive as club to make sure their matches are attended by as many fans as possible.

“For the fans football is a religion, it is the glue that brings the society together and here at Dortmund fans understand that on match days they only think about how they can get to the stadium,” Cramer told a team of African journalists who were on a Bundesliga tour courtesy of StarTimes and the Bundesliga International.

As if that is not enough, Dortmund fans also have a famous tag line which says: ‘My father took me to the stadium and so I will take my children.’

This is something that has been done through generations at the Signal Iduna Park, the home ground of current Bundesliga leaders which hosts a capacity of over 80,000 spectators.

“We are more than just a football club. We are more of a family and ours is not only about winning.

“Fans will still come to the stadium even if we are not doing well, like we lost the seven-point advantage on champions Bayern, but fans still came to the stadium,” Cramer said.

The fact that fans still follow their teams through good and bad times could therefore explain why Bundesliga matches are also packed and that could be a good lesson to local clubs that football is not always about winning.

A good example is AFC Leopards who tend to have fans following them when they are doing well, but play at almost empty stadium when the team is struggling like it is doing at the moment.

But how does Dortmund manage to control the huge number of fans who throng the Signal Iduna Park and avoid cases of hooliganism which could discourage many fans from going to the stadium like it has happened here in Kenya?

As if that is not enough alcohol is even sold in the stadium and one would expect that with fans having had taken many rounds, they will cause chaos.

That however is not the case in the Bundesliga as club officials have instilled on the fans the need to enjoy football without violence.

“We always interact with the fans and also communicate to them through the media and it has helped us control the crowds hence we have never had incidents of crowd trouble,” Cramer said.

To ensure everyone also enjoys the game as it should be, Dortmund have also ensured there is a family block where parents can sit alongside their kids and enjoy the game.

The famous section of the stadium is however the yellow wall where over 25,000 fans stand throughout the match and here also no incidents of crowd trouble have been reported.

Steffen Hillman, an assistant to managing directors at Wolfsburg, says apart from the need of ensuring safety at the stadiums, they have also managed to encourage fans on why they should support teams from their areas.

This idea could work in Kenya as there is no reason why clubs like Mathare United have few fans yet there are many football fans from their base.

The Bundesliga attendance has also been helped by their fair ticket prices as compared to other leagues in the world.

The average single ticket price is 26 Euros (Sh2,900) as compared to EPL (62 Euros) and LaLiga and Serie A (both 58 Euros).

With Gor Mahia playing against Morocco’s Berkane in the first leg quarter-finals of the Confederations Cup today, it remains to be seen how many fans will go cheer their team at Kasarani Stadium.

Hopefully, after that the game Gor management and other local clubs can learn a lesson or two of how Bundesliga is attracting fans and SPL can be ‘football as it is meant to be.’

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