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All change for Brazil

Submitted by on May 17, 2014 – 9:15 amNo Comment

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AFL operative The Colonel, reports from Rio ahead of the World Cup. Article borrowed from FC United of Manchester’s programme/magazine FCUM Review:

It’s derby day in Sao Paulo and Santos, the most famous team in Brazil, the team of Pele and Neiymar, are in town to play Sao Paulo FC in the ‘San-São’.

Sao Paulo have their own winning history, a team that won two Copa Libertadores in the 1990s with Rai as their king.

You probably picture the stadium Morumbi bouncing, a cauldron of noise as the Twisted Youth Torcida of Santos try to out-sing the Tricolour clad fans of the home side.

If you picture this then you would probably be disappointed by the reality if you went to the game. Just over 16,000 fans attend the derby this year and they rattle around the 80,000 seats of Morumbi a little. The Torcida of both teams try to create an atmosphere, but the gaps between them are too large to give any feeling of real intensity.

Brazilian football teams claim some of the largest supporters groups in the world; in Rio, Flamengo claim 32 million worldwide and Vasco de Gama boast of 20 million fans in Brazil and Portugal. In Sao Paulo, Corinthians are the largest team with 23 million and Sao Paulo next with 17 million. Yet whilst their national team will be favourites in this year’s World Cup, in the attendance league, Brazil is below Japan, the MLS and the Chinese Superleague.

A recent trip to Brazil gave me a chance to attend matches to see what league football in Brazil was like and discuss with Brazilian fans what they thought of the increasing commercialisation of the Brazilian game.

Poor attendances have been a problem in Brazil for well over the last two decades. The 2013 average attendance for the Campeonato Brasileiro Seria A (the top division) was 14,951, with average ground occupation of 40 per cent. Compare this to the Premier League, which averages just over 35,000, or the Bundesliga which averages just over 45,000. I saw home games of all of the four biggest Brazilian teams and none attracted more than 18,000.

The World Cup has been the genesis for large scale building and regeneration. Of the 20 teams competing for the Campeonato in 2014, almost half will be playing in new or re-developed stadiums. It is hoped that the improvement in facilities will create an increase in attendances especially amongst the countries growing middle class.

Providing affordable football is a core aim of our own club FC United of Manchester, and the importance that we place on the match going supporter is one of things I like most about us.

As such my gut instinct is that these changes in Brazil will be detrimental to the traditional supporters groups. The worry is that as in England, the traditional working class supporter will be frozen out as a result. Between 2005 and 2011, the price of the average ticket climbed 125 per cent, and last year there was a further increase of 14 per cent.

The cheapest ticket at the Flamengo game was 60 Reals, the equivalent of £60 if you compare average salaries in Brazil and UK. Being a Raça Rubro-Negra (Flamengo Ultra) is an expensive commitment given they may play 62 games a season in different competitions.

Increasing commercialisation of football in Brazil shouldn’t necessarily be viewed as something entirely negative. The relative poverty of the Brazilian teams compared to their European counterparts has led to an exodus of talent, which denies local fans the opportunity to see the best Brazilian players. Brazil has consistently supplied over 500 players to Europe’s leagues each season, a whole league’s worth of talent.

The best young Brazilian players are often bought by agents and then moved around clubs to increase their value with the players having little or no say in the decision. This exploitation damages not just the young players but also the Brazilian teams.

The revelation that Santos received only £14million for Neymar in a transfer that Barcelona may have paid £78million in total to complete, underlines this.If increased revenues (combined with a UEFA Ban on third party ownerships) leads to more Brazilian talent playing in Brazil it is surely a good thing?

As in England, television is a key source of income for clubs, and as in England this often means that games are moved and changed to suit the audience at home.

When 70 per cent of your income comes from TV contracts you are going to be prepared to play whenever the TV companies want.

This probably explained the 10pm kick-off for the Corinthians versus Commercial game that I went to, or afternoon kick-offs in the high 30s temperature of the Brazilian summer. It may also explain partly the low attendances. Local blackouts generally apply to games broadcast on the big terrestrial and cable networks, but the cable TV companies also offer a not particularly expensive pay-per-view service, which broadcasts every single Serie A or B game without restrictions.

What this means is that while stadiums sit empty, bars and restaurants across the city are packed with fans watching the game on TV.
Fan violence is the other key factor keeping fans away from the ground. As I was making my way back to the hostel after the game, Márcio Barreto de Toledo was making his way to a Santos supporters’ bar, not far away from where the opening game of the World Cup will take place. He died later that evening after being attacked by Sao Paolo fans with knives and iron bars.

The newspaper that reported the incident made reference to the fact that this was the first death for 20 months as though progress was being made. Watching scenes from the widely reported riot on the last day of last season between Atletico PR and Vasco da Gama it is easy to see why people are put off from attending games or joining the organised supporters groups.

So despite the positivity that the world cup will bring there are still many issues clubs will have to resolve before full stadiums join flair and passion as a feature of Brazilian football.

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