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SBD Global/July 22, 2013/International Football

UAE Football League Often Unable To Fill Stadiums Due To Small, Apathetic Population

Abu Dhabi’s investment in Man City and other European clubs tops $1.5B, "but most clubs in the United Arab Emirates’ domestic league play in near-empty stadiums and often rely on government largesse to survive," according to REUTERS. The local game has "big ambitions yet little chance of realising them due to the country’s small population which is apathetic about domestic teams." Emiratis are "hugely proud of Man City’s Premier League and FA Cup successes" since Owner Sheikh Mansour Bin Zayed Al Nahyan bought the club in '08. Emirates Airlines’ sponsorship of Ligue 1 Paris St. Germain, Serie A AC Milan and Premier League Arsenal’s 60,000-capacity Emirates Stadium is "also a source of prestige." UAE FA President Yousuf Al-Serkal said that these investments "have not directly benefited the domestic game." Serkal: "We haven’t seen any cooperation between those clubs and our clubs or the national team." The low attendances "undermine the UAE's aims of producing a competition that will ultimately rival the best in Asia." Competition organizer Pro League Committee CEO Colin Smith said, "I don't think it's impossible." Among UAE clubs, only Abu Dhabi's Al Jazira stadium has a capacity greater than 20,000 and although the league does not publish attendance figures, crowds are often only in the hundreds. UAE club Al Ahli Chair Abdullah Al-Naboodah said, "What we lack is revenue generation from ticket sales. This is a problem in the United Arab Emirates -- because we are trying to promote more people coming to the stadium, we are giving them free tickets, but this kind of culture needs to change." Local media report that "some clubs even pay supporters to attend matches." This has "boosted the stadium atmosphere but for clubs meant to run along commercial lines it appears a dubious strategy" (REUTERS, 7/19).
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