A PECULIAR sight when you watch South African top-flight football on television, even before Covid-19 came into the picture, is the vast empty space in the stands.
The stadiums simply do not fill up in a fair amount of the games, quite baffling for a country that considers football to be its most popular sport. If you look closely enough, though, you will see that the lack of big crowds will not necessarily choke the life out of the South African game, or any such effects remotely close to that.
Football across the Limpopo – indeed like all of South Africa’s major sporting disciplines – is packaged as a much-desired commercial commodity.
The commercilisation of football in South Africa makes good business sense for them. Sponsors, aware of the monetary value of the sport to their businesses, are often tripping over each other to partner football.
Broadcasters scramble for TV rights at the end of every deal, trying to get a slice of the pie.
So down in Mzansi, the coronavirus crisis aside, football has proven time and again that it possesses the financial muscle to get by even without lots of bums on seats.
The same cannot be said for most countries in Africa, including us here in Zimbabwe. News reaching us indicates that Zimbabwean football clubs might soon be allowed to resume practice in anticipation of a return to competition if the authorities comply with public health measures for Covid-19.
That alone will be a welcome relief, amidst the chorus of a broad spectrum of interest groups and individuals calling for the recommencement of Zimbabwean domestic football, whose future is growing uncertain during the forced hiatus.
If football does return to the calendar this year in Zimbabwe, it is likely to be without spectators in the terraces in the initial stages of resumption, meaning no ticket sales revenue for the already financially-strained clubs.
Only a handful of football clubs in this country, if any at all, can survive today without the turnstiles turning at stadium gates.
But that this is the fact of the matter, in this day and age, is a sad incitement of Zimbabwean football.
In an era where unfettered commercialisation has become the very core of sport’s existence, I cringe at the sound of our own voices in Zimbabwean football when we speak of gate revenue as the panacea for all financial hardships.
I thought we had turned a corner when SuperSport arrived here a few seasons ago to beam Zimbabwe’s Premier Soccer League (PSL). It turned out to be a brief flirtation.
As soon as the initial agreement with the PSL came to an end, the South African sports broadcasting giant left without further ado, never to return again.
Not much was said by SuperSport on their Zimbabwe exit.
But they did not have to. To put in bluntly, Zimbabwe had not been a smart business move for them at that time.
This then calls for a return to the drawing board for Zimbabwean football, to rethink the future with a clear mind.
This time, it ought to be a soul-searching exercise that produces long-term solutions for the future – a future that puts into consideration any eventuality, like Covid-19 has taught everybody when the pandemic caught us off-guard.
It is time for Zimbabwe to move forward with greater ingenuity, rebranding herself using modern methods that have worked well for others.
That way, football gives itself the opportunity to be heard by those seeking out meaningful partnerships with the sport.