As the knockout stages of the Under-20 World Cup begins in Turkey today, one factor is hugely noticeable as the world’s top young talent continue to square off.
Where are all the fans?
Game after game the attendances seem to have got worse, with only the Turkish U-20 team able to draw decent crowds. Other nations such as Iraq and Egypt have had sizable followings, given their closeness geographically, but that is about as good as it gets.
Trying to analyze why the crowd numbers are so low isn’t easy. But one aspect sticks out more than most.
Location, location, location.
Despite being just within the boundaries of Europe, Turkey sits thousands of miles away from the huge conurbations of London, Paris, Western Germany and the larger cities in Spain, Italy and central Europe.
Those are the regions soccer fans inhabit more readily than any other areas. They have more disposable income and are willing to travel to watch soccer games, however with the European championships occurring in Poland and Ukraine last time out, European soccer fans may have had enough of traveling so far out East to cheer on their nations.
FIFA have aired their displeasure at the low attendances with the Chairman of the Organizing Committee, Jim Boyce, speaking of the disappointing figures.
“Despite the Local Organizing Committee’s excellent event preparation, I am nevertheless very disappointed by the match attendance figures,” Boyce said. “This tournament is a wonderful chance for Turkey, but the low number of spectators currently detracts from this opportunity.”
But one other huge factor that has hampered crowd figures across Turkey, is the large anti-government protest that erupted in the weeks leading up to the U-20 World Cup.
For me, that is a huge reason why fans are not attending the tournament. Couple that with the current unrest in the region as a whole — more violent outbreaks in Syria, Egypt and Iraq have broken out during the event — and many supporters from the Western world have been put off. Turkey’s long-term aim to get into the EU seems to have vanished, and having failures at tournaments such as this will impact the country’s ability to attract other high profile sporting events in the future.
During the opening 12 games of the tournament, the average attendance was a mere 4,828 spectators per game, which was in fact the lowest figures since the U-20 World Cup began in 1977.
On the eve of the tournament on June 20, just 300,000 tickets were sold. 1.3 million were available, meaning over 75% of tickets went unsold. That is remarkable.
People are readily citing the ‘Gezi effect’ for the lack of spectators, following the lengthy protests sparked off across the country due to the governments plans to build shops and other modern buildings in Istanbul’s Taksim Square. The decision to build on such a sacred spot, which dates way back to the Ottoman Empire, has since been delayed. But unrest remains and spectator numbers have been effected.
As we’ve discussed many other issues come into play, you can’t solely blame anti-government protests for poor attendance.
Regardless, you can watch the play get back underway today, as Mexico take on Spain in their tough last-16 clash at 10:45am ET this morning, live on ESPNU, ESPN3.com and ESPN Deportes in North America.
Hopefully it isn’t in another empty stadium. But, sadly, it probably will be.