For the last week and a half, Asia Cup, the top competition in football (soccer) in Asia has been going strong. Outside of the 2022 World Cup, this will probably be the highest profile soccer tournament which the country will have the chance to host. Granted, a good number of the stadiums and billions of dollars of infrastructure has not been built, but some are looking at Asia Cup as a testing grounds to see how well a high profile tournament will do in the country. So far things have been less than promising in regards to turn out for matches. We are about 12 hours away from the quarter final matches kicking off, and the big question is will people come to the matches other than the Japan vs Qatar match?
The 24 group stage matches to this point have had a total of 267,645 attendees, an average of 11,152 per match. While this is not the World Cup, it really makes one wonder if people will come out in force to watch matches in Qatar for the World Cup. Notably, the matches with Qatar have seen between 29,000 to 37,000 fans per match, while Japan vs Saudi Arabia, a match which would decide one of the teams to make the quarter-finals had an abysmal 2,022 show up (reports say there was closer to 800 people in the stands) to watch in a stadium with a capacity of 25,000. That’s pretty pathetic considering that Japan and Saudi Arabia have won 6 of the last 8 Asia Cup titles between them. Another high profile match between South Korea and Australia had only 15,526 fans show up to a 25,000 capacity stadium.
So the big question is, can Qatar get fans to pack the stadiums during the World Cup, especially for those matches not involving Qatar or popular teams such as Brazil, Italy, England, and Argentina? A few of the teams which have had higher attendance during Asia Cup have been teams who have been located in the Middle East, other than that, the South Koreans and Japanese who usually travel very well, have not seen their usual high attendance numbers during this tournament. I’d say it would be hard to extrapolate how high attendance will be at Asia Cup based on the Qatar numbers, but such low numbers at important games seems to indicate to me that many of the fans in Qatar only want to see Qatar, and not necessarily the better teams on the continent play each other in high profile match ups.
Granted, Qatar is doing all they can to market and display the 2022 World Cup, watching matches on TV from around the world I have constantly noticed signboards with ads for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar in almost every match I have seen. It has been reported that Qatar has spent over $43 million last year in marketing the World Cup, and that this number will continue to grow as we move closer to 2022. It’s almost as if we are forgetting that there is a World Cup in 2014 and 2018 before then.
One promising thing of note is that Asia Cup has always had fairly poor attendance, and thus we should expect much higher numbers at World Cup. Also, while infrastructure has not been fully built, Asia Cup in Qatar this year has been quite well organized. Only time will tell if 2022 will be a big success. Asia Cup 2007 hosted in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam had an average attendance of 22,000 a match, and Asia Cup 2004 in China had an average of 31,000 a match, one hopes that the knockout stage of the tournament will see a boost in attendance, otherwise all this money being spent to host and advertise the games in Qatar, may end up as a public relations nightmare on an international scale.