An experiment to attract more fans to UAE football matches will either prove to be a success or failure tonight when the Pro League Super Cup kicks off at Dubai Sports City. For the first time, money has been spent on a marketing campaign in both English and Arabic to raise the profile of a match featuring Al Ahli, the Pro League champions and Al Ain, the President's Cup winners. The Pro League games last season averaged 2,500 spectators but officials say they hope around 20,000 will be in attendance for tonight's action - proving that, with the right organisation, there is a hunger for domestic football in the country.
"The capacity is 25,000, if we sell 20,000 tickets we will be happy," said the league chairman Tarqi Al Tayer who has commissioned Dh300,000 to be spent on promoting the game. Convincing fans to turn up for domestic games is the next step. Under new Asian Football League rules, club's require a minimum of 5,000 supporters to gain entry to the 2011 AFC Champions League. "We are hoping for good attendances, but only tonight can show us if the promotion has been a success," commented the marketing and communications manager Luca Baldanza.
"Promoting the league is the responsibility of the clubs. 'We are helping them by showing them how to promote themselves, but it is up to the club to attract fans." Under the new rules ten per cent of seats at each game will be allocated to audiences targeted under specific promotions. Plans are also in the pipeline for all Pro League clubs to launch youth academies. "We are putting plans in place to help clubs encourage fans. By next summer we hope all clubs will have youth academies that anyone can join.
"This will help expatriates and locals feel part of their local club," continued Al Tayer. "We need to upgrade the infrastructure, too. Clubs in other countries offer food, drinks and entertainment, we need to offer the same. "Attracting expats is important. There is a big gap that we are trying to narrow." Attracting an average of 5,000 fans a match is too big a challenge, according to Khaled Al Awadh, the Al Wahda club chairman
"It is too much. It is a very big challenge. In previous years we have paid people to come to the games, but we've stopped now," said Al Awadh. "People would rather watch the football at home. "We are doing what we can. Tickets have been reduced by 50 per cent, from Dh20 to Dh10. "The Pro League should do more to help us, but I don't know what they can do. We'd like to have an open academy, but finding the budget is a problem."