Thursday, March 02, 2006

V-League attendances pick up after worrying start

Vietnam's national V-League is gradually winning back football fans’ support after a series of serious scandals involving well-known players and officials. Crowds coming to see the V-League have recovered since the season started on 15 January but much promotional work needs to be done, according to Vietnam Football Federation statistics.

In the first round match fans averaged 6,833 in stadiums nationwide but the figure dropped to 4,500 in the next few rounds. In Ha Noi Stadium, for instance, a little over 100 fans bothered to support their team as the Tet holidays approached. The conditions improved since the fifth round, one week after Tet, with an average 8,333 fans in stadiums. However, the number dipped again slightly to 7,083 during sixth round matches.

This year the V-League expected to face difficulties after the national U-23 team’s match-fixing scandal at the 23rd South East Asian (SEA) Games in the Philippines last year that stunned Vietnamese fans and VFF officials and caused many sponsorship withdrawals.

"I was very nervous when the V-League started this season amid a climate of 20 players, coaches and referees getting mixed up in match-fixing in recent years. However, fans have not turned their backs on football," 35-year-old Tran Quoc Tuan, the youngest general secretary of VFF in Vietnam’s football history, told, Vietnam News.

Tuan speculated that the obvious answer for the fans’ return to the stadiums was the level of excitement in the beginning of the season, with first round matches such as Mikado Nam Dinh versus Khatoco Khanh Hoa, Pisico Binh Dinh taking on Hoang Anh Gia Lai and LG-Ha Noi-ACB hosting Da Nang. In addition, the upsets of both defending champions Gach Dong Tam Long An and two-time champion Hoang Anh Gia Lai in the first seven rounds were particularly gripping.

The number of fans affects the incomes of footballers and the clubs alike. In a year-end meeting, director of Da Nang Sports Department Nguyen Hong said the club had collected VND4 billion ($250,000) – equal to a club’s primary sponsoring contract for one year – from ticket sales through 2004. Hong also pointed to the last V-League match against Binh Duong, when Da Nang’s Chi Lang Stadium drew 35,000 fans and took over VND500 million ($32,000). Last year, Da Nang were V-League runners-up, and this year have a berth in the Asian Football Confederation’s Champions League.

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