SAO PAULO (AFP) – Slumping attendances, a rising tide of debt and a home World Cup thumping by Germany. Brazilian football has not had the best of years amid signs the national game is losing its lustre.
On May 18, just a few short weeks before the Germans dealt out a 7-1 hiding to the Selecao to bury dreams of a sixth World Cup triumph, the domestic game reached a nadir when the top flight match between Atletico Paranaense of Curitiba and Chapecoense attracted a crowd of just 766, the worst ever first-division gate.
Overall, the season average attendance was a paltry 16,557, behind latecomers to the sport such as the United States, China and Japan.
Brazil may have provided a conveyor belt of top talent over the decades – from Pele to Ronaldo and Neymar.
Yet the home league was only the 15th-best attended over the past year, the country of 202 million people attracting only a third as many fans to its stadiums as German clubs, according to a study by consultants Pluri.
Neighbouring Argentina’s league was the seventh-best attended despite a ban on away fans.
Brazil’s outgoing Minister of Sport Aldo Rebelo says fans feel what is on show in their league just isn’t good enough.
“Football is a team sport but fans want to see the star names, the artists, who today are a long way from our stadiums,” Rebelo told AFP.
He recognised that although Brazil has over the past two years refurbished or inaugurated 14 stadiums – 12 for the World Cup and new arenas for Gremio of Porto Alegre and Palmeiras of Sao Paulo – Brazilian football is lagging behind in today only making up two percent of the sport’s wealth, compared with some 30 for England and 20 for Germany.
The refurbished Maracana, which hosted the World Cup final as Germany saw off Argentina to capture the crown and which also hosted the 1950 decider before a 200,000 crowd as Brazil lost to Uruguay, has often played host to Rio clubs – before paltry crowds.
Debt-laden and ultimately relegated Botafogo hit on one solution – travelling more than 3,000 kilometres (2,100 miles) to Amazonia to play in the new Arena Amazonia in regional capital Manaus, where a healthy 39,500 who have no top-flight club of their own turned out to see them meet Flamengo in a Rio “clasico” at the other end of the county.
That comfortably beat their average attendance of 11,300, GloboEsporte noted.
“From the 1950s to the 1970s the big clubs filled their stadiums. Soccer was a fiesta and part of affirming Brazilian identity,” says Ary Rocco, professor of sports marketing at Sao Paulo University.
He says that changed from the 1990s with the advent of hooliganism, mismanagement and sliding standards.