By Richard Martin
SALVADOR, Brazil (Reuters) – The Copa America’s official song is titled “A Continent Vibrates” but if the strikingly low attendances at some matches are anything to go by, many in South America, especially in the host nation Brazil, seem wholly unenthused by the tournament.
The latest disappointment for organisers was Paraguay’s thrilling 2-2 draw with Qatar on Sunday being played out at the iconic 74,000-capacity Maracana in Rio de Janeiro in front of vast swathes of empty yellow and blue seats.
Only 19,000 people turned up, despite 4,000 children being given free tickets by the local organising committee in order to swell the crowd.
The disappointing turnout continued a worrying trend for tournament organisers CONMEBOL after only 13,000 people made it into the Arena Gremio for Peru’s goalless draw with Venezuela on Saturday in Porto Alegre.
Even fans of hosts Brazil, famous for their passion for the national team, seem apathetic, as their 3-0 win over Bolivia in the opening game at the 66,000-capacity Morumbi stadium was far from a sell-out, with only 46,000 attending.
CONMEBOL president Alejandro Dominguez admitted he was concerned about the low numbers but defended Brazil’s organisation.
“Of course, it’s worrying because you want lots of people to see the best players in the world in action, because South American players are the best in the world,” Dominguez told reporters on Sunday.
“This is a country which lives for football and we would like to see more people participate. Some games have had many people, others unfortunately have not had so many.
“But, overall, the feeling is very positive and I think it’s going to get better.
“Brazil is doing a great job at organising the tournament, at the level South America expects.”
High ticket prices could be keeping fans away. The dearest seats for the opener were 590 Brazilian reais ($151), with tickets to the final costing a staggering 890 reais ($228), just shy of the national minimum wage of 998 reais per month.
There is also a possible ‘big event fatigue’ with the Copa America being the third major sporting event in Brazil in five years after the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games. Perhaps attending a match no longer has the same allure for locals.
The sheer size of stadiums built for the World Cup has not helped matters either, highlighting small attendances for games that in previous Copa tournaments would have been played at grounds holding around 20,000 spectators.
To take one example, the biggest stadium at the 2015 Copa America, Chile’s Estadio Nacional, holds 48,000, fewer than the smallest ground at Brazil’s Copa, the Arena Corinthians.
(Reporting by Richard Martin; Editing by Ian Chadband)