SA TIMES-ABS PREMIER SOCCER LEAGUE Already low stadium attendances for matches not involving Chiefs, Pirates and Sundowns could see a marked plunge. After their headline sponsor Absa pulled out of the Premiership, the Premier Soccer League (PSL) needn’t worry about their ability to entice someone new.
PSL chairperson Irvin Khoza said this week that about four brands were looking to step in to fill the void Absa left when they opted not to renew their 13-year title sponsorship when the deal expired at the end of the current season.
Rumoured to be among the four are Telkom (who sponsor the Knockout Cup), OUTsurance, MultiChoice as well as the Bidvest Group, who sold Bidvest Wits’ PSL status to Limpopo outfit Tshakhuma Tsha Mandzivhandila (TTM).
Absa’s decision comes at an inconvenient time, with Khoza and Co. scrambling to find ways for the league to conclude, following the Covid-19 outbreak that has turned the sporting world upside down. But that’s all it is, an inconvenience.
Last year, the league reported that it clocked R1 billion in annual revenue for the first time – largely on the back of their broadcast partnership with MultiChoice, who bring in over R500 million a year – and the bulk of that income will not be threatened.
The PSL, and football in general, commands the lions’ share of the South African sporting attention, and brands have been falling over themselves trying to get an egg from the golden goose.
This was proven when OUTsurance bypassed their way into PSL matches by sponsoring referees, like they do in rugby. What they didn’t bank on, however, was the friction between the South African Football Association (SAFA), under whom all officials fall, and the PSL, who run the lucrative professional domestic game.
At the time, OUTsurance were launching their low income or “mass market” funeral policy offering and they, wisely, saw no better gateway to the market than football.
They aren’t the only ones who see football as a great entry point into the mass market. But the price tag to get official status, such as enjoyed by MTN, Nedbank and Telkom, is hefty.
Some brands – such as Engen and Shield – have resorted to having their own development competitions, but these can be laborious and resource consuming. Others, like SuperSport and Bidvest, went as far as buying their own clubs – but without the stomach for football politics, one could easily pack up and go.
While there will be no shortage of these brands coming forward trying to bend Khoza’s ear – and desperately try to shave a few hundred thousand from the asking price – the PSL could be faced with an ever-growing problem once live stadium attendance is allowed again, be it this year or next.
For more than a decade, the league has seen dwindling stadium attendance records, with the big three clubs, Kaizer Chiefs, Orlando Pirates and Mamelodi Sundowns, propping up the gate register.
Chiefs and Pirates might argue that their annual Soweto Derby is the single biggest ticket sales contributor to this line item on the income statement.
In the beginning there might be a rush to get out because of the cabin fever everyone experienced after lockdown – but, due to lack of investment in the live football experience, fans will resort back to their home comforts and to the ever-improving television match offering.
The league is powerless in trying to drum up support for the rest of the 13 teams that make up the 16-team league.
There are exceptions. Limpopo derbies between Black Leopards, Baroka FC and Polokwane City often bring fans in excess of 15 000 people and Friday night games at Harry Gwala Stadium, featuring home side Maritzburg United and whoever the unlucky visitors are, have become legendary.
But, for the majority of the time, the crowd is sparsely populated in the stands.
Even Amakhosi struggle to fill a quarter of FNB Stadium without their Soweto rivals. To circumvent this, they have taken “home” matches to Polokwane, Durban and Cape Town, where they enjoy majority following regardless of the presence of PSL teams in those cities.
Covid-19 would not only have changed the way we consume our live sport and put a greater distance between us socially, but also hurt football lovers financially, many of whom could come out of lockdown without jobs.
While the PSL will survive financially, in the stands is where Covid-19 could hurt them the most.