Brazilian fans paying the price for modernisation

Posted by Tim Vickery

Flamengo fans were charged $40 to watch the traditional Rio de Janeiro derby against Botafogo in the new Maracana Stadium.GettyImagesFlamengo fans were charged $40 to watch the traditional Rio de Janeiro derby against Botafogo in the new Maracana Stadium.

In last week's second leg of the final of the Copa Libertadores, Atletico Mineiro of Brazil did not only win the trophy - they took the extraordinary sum of nearly $7 million at the box office. A quick, back of the envelope calculation reveals that the average ticket price was over $100.

This was a case of exceptional circumstances - the most important match in the history of a big club. But the trend is already out there in Brazilian football.

Last Sunday, for example, Flamengo played Botafogo in a traditional Rio de Janeiro derby, the first time that either had played in the city's iconic Maracana stadium since its reopening. This was a run of the mill Brazilian league game. But the cheapest ticket (though club members and students can buy at half price) was around the $40 dollar mark - a huge sum for the average working guy in a country with an income distribution as skewed as Brazil.

The situation gave rise to a protest outside the stadium which was funny, creative, intelligent and timely - and which united supporters of both clubs. The powerful weapon of irony was harnessed and carried into battle.

Groups of fans dressed up in aristocratic gear - smoking jackets, monocles, top hats, elegant dresses, with placards complaining that the prices were too cheap ('RS100' - the equivalent of $40 - 'for me is nothing but small change,' was my particular favourite).

The point they were making with such class was that the new reality of Brazilian football - with its modern 2014 stadiums now coming into use - is pricing the traditional fan out of the game. The working class guy is now expected to watch the match on TV, usually in a bar that can afford pay-per-view.

This price hike is not only morally repugnant. It is also bad business. The Flamengo-Botafogo match, for example, did not sell out. Indeed, I am told that the TV images made the ground look half empty - since the most expensive seats are at the side, around the half way line. Few of these were sold, and they are especially visible on the screen.

Botafogo play at the Maracana again this Thursday. How many fans can afford - or are willing at these prices - to keep coming back?

There is a basic error in pricing a football match as if it was a Paul McCartney show. One happens rarely. The other is frequent and dependent on the forming of habit. One of the fundamental truths of football is that the crowd are not spectators. They are active participants in the spectacle. The atmosphere they create is both an attraction in itself and a factor capable of influencing events on the field.

The Brazilian game already has enough problems getting people into the stadiums - kick off times determined by TV, a poorly organised calendar, fear of violence (both football-related and social), inadequate transport infra-structure. Average crowds in the Brazilian Championship are around the 13,000 mark. When FIFA awarded the 2014 World Cup to Brazil it did so in the explicit hope that the tournament would give domestic crowds a boost.

It may happen. But not at these prices. Indeed, it is likely that the government will at some point become a player in this debate. After all, it was public money that financed the construction of the stadiums in discussion in this article - the Maracana in Rio and the Mineirao in Belo Horizonte, scene of Atletico's historic Libertadores box office return. Both are now administered by private consortiums, in itself a source of controversy. On wonders how long it will take before the government steps in and uses political leverage to ensure that Brazil's historic mass entertainment is within the reach of the masses.

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