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Attendance Figures in the Last Matches of 2017 Reveal a Struggle Between Competing Visions for Turkish Society

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Attendance figures for the penultimate week of the first half of the 2017-2018 Turkish Super League varied greatly, and—according to data cited by Hurriyet—the the total attendance (minus season-ticket holders) of 72,453 paying fans for the 16th week fixtures represented the single biggest week of attendance in the Turkish Super League since the contraversial Passolig system was implemented. The previous record came in the 6th week of the 2017-18 season, when 55,248 fans purchased tickets. This means that the average attendance for the 16th week’s nine matches was almost 15,000 fans; a total of 130,920 fans (including season-ticket holders) attended the matches making for an average attendance of 14,546 fans league wide. While this is certainly an encouraging figure, showing that fans are still willing to attend matches despite the draconian form of social control that the Passolig system entails, a closer look at the individual attendance figures will show that the struggle for cultural hegemony is still ongoing in Turkish football.

As I noted above, attendance figures varied greatly. The highest attendance—33,027 fans—was seen for the match between traditional giants Fenerbahce and bottom-placed Kardemir Karabukspor. The lowest attendance was for the match between strugglers Genclerbirligi and Kasimpasaspor—the team from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s neighborhood—which saw just 1,599 fans in attendance. The discrepancy here should not be surprising; the traditional giants of Turkish football—Besiktas, Galatasaray, and Fenerbahce—traditionally maintain high attendance figures. The “invented” teams, on the other hand—like Kasimpasaspor—and traditional minor teams that face financial struggles—like Genclerbirligi, founded in 1923—struggle to maintain high attendance figures. This trend was clearly visible in the 17th week, the final week of fixtures in the Turkish Super League’s first half.

According to date from Ajansspor.com, the traditional sides attracted a healthy number of fans. The contest between Galatasaray and Goztepe in Istanbul saw 45,809 fans in attendance, the match between Atiker Konyaspor and Fenerbahce attracted 20,458 fans in Konya, while Besiktas drew 16,173 fans (filling 87% of the stadium) when they visited Sivasspor. These strong attendance figures show that the traditional powers of Turkish football are still able to attract fans regardless of where they play. Unfortunately, these high attendance figures only tell half of the story. In fact, when we look at other teams, it is clear that local teams—as well as “invented’ teams—fail to draw fans.

The “derby” between teams from two neighboring provinces on the Turkish Riviera, Antalyaspor and Alanyaspor, attracted just 11,785 fans. Antalyaspor’s new stadium—built by the government—was 54% empty in what should have been a hotly contested derby. And while Antalya failed to fill their stadium they still attracted over 10,000 fans, because they actually have fans (the team has played in the top flight of Turkish football for the better part of the last three decades), other teams were not so lucky. Contrast the attendance in Antalya with the attendance for the match between Kasimpasaspor and Basaksehirspor. Normally a city derby—between two neighborhood teams—would draw a large crowd. Especially when one of the teams involved, Basaksehirspor, is topping the table. Yet, in a city of over 15 million people, only 2,265 Istanbullu fans attended the Istanbul “derby”. It is in this match that one can see just how “invented” Istanbul’s new teams are; neither of them have fans or any real football culture. That one of the teams in question should be topping the table—yet not even draw 3,000 fans in a city with a population of 15 million—is absurd to say the least.

 

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Last Week In Istanbul I Caught a Glimpse of the Recep Tayyip Erdogan Stadium During Kasimpasaspor’s Match With Istanbul Basaksehir. The Two Invented Teams Failed To Fill the Stadium in What Should be a Local “Derby”. Image Courtesy Of The Author.

 

Yet this was not the only absurdity of the final week of the first half of the 2017-2018 season, since there was an even lower attendance! In the match between Osmanlispor (Ottoman Sports Club) and Akhisar Belediyespor; Ajansspor reported an attendance of 199 (!) but their figure may have been generous since Oda TV reported an attendance of 181. Regardless what the true figure is, that a top flight match in a football crazed country like Turkey should attract less than one thousand fans is embarrassing to say the least. The reasons for such a low attendance figure, however, can be traced back to politics.

Both Istanbul Basaksehirspor and Osmanlispor [Ankara] are “invented” teams, so to speak; both were invented by the ruling AKP government to provide alternatives to the teams that currently hold a hegemonic position in Turkish football (Besiktas, Fenerbahce, Galatasaray in Istanbul; Genclerbirligi and Ankaragucu in Ankara). Due to their lack of any “real” fan base (fostered out of a neighborhood or class identity in the manner of many European clubs), these artificially created teams struggle to attract fans. Osmanlispor’s struggles have been compounded by a power struggle within the Turkish political establishment. When President Recep Tayyip Erdogan forced out the mayor of Ankara, Melih Gokcek, on 28 October 2017 it meant that Osmanlispor had lost a major benefactor. Mr. Gokcek’s 23-year long reign in Ankara coincided with a lot of social engineering in the form of urban development (the odd structures he built in Ankara have become legendary; among them were a dinosaur and a giant robot–the latter got him sued by the Turkish Chamber of Architects and Engineers for wasting taxpayer money on . . . a robot statue in a traffic island).

 

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The Fact That I am Even Typing the Phrase “A Giant Robot on a Traffic Island” is Certainly Absurd–But Perhaps Not as Absurd as the Fact that Hard-Earned Taxpayer Money Was Spent on This Monstrosity; It is the Ultimate Insult to Ankara’s Working Class. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/turkish-mayor-sued-over-giant-transformer-robot-statue-10169516.html

 

But giant robot statues were not the only thing that Mr. Gokcek spent taxpayer money on. He also spent money on getting Osmanlispor’s previous incarnation—Ankara Buyuksehir Belediyespor (the municipality’s team) promoted to the top flight of Turkish football. After a conflict of interest (as Mr. Gokcek took over ownership of one of Ankara’s oldest teams, Ankaragucu), Ankara Buyuksehir Belediyespor became Ankaraspor and ultimately Osmanlispor (the neo-Ottoman undertones should be unmistakable here; it is a topic I have written about before). Mr. Gokcek even spent time sending municipal employees to Osmanlispor games in a bid to boost their attendance figures. Now that new mayor Mustafa Tuna is in office however, the municipal employees are no longer going to the stadium, which explains the low attendance figures for Osmanlispor’s final home match before the Turkish Super League’s winter break. Ankaragucu fans delighted in the development, of course, joking on Twitter that more than 200 people watch the municipality’s backhoes during construction.

 

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Ankaragucu Fans Amuse Themselves on Social Media With the Apalling Emptiness of Osmanlispor’s Stadium. Images Courtesy Of: https://odatv.com/osmanli-yikildi-2712171200.html

 

While it is refreshing that this corrupt politician’s meddling in the sports world is finally coming to light, it remains to be seen if the attempted social engineering of Turkish society through sport can be reversed. Istanbul Basaksehir is currently leading the Turkish Super League at the halfway point despite being unable to make it out of a weak UEFA Europa League group consisting of Hoffenheim, Sporting Braga, and Ludogorets Razgrad, suggesting that the team’s success is purely domestic. Also, not only is Istanbul Basaksehir the team with the highest rate of successful completed passes in the Turkish Super League, it is also the team which has committed the least amount of fouls this year. These observations suggest that while Istanbul Basaksehirspor are certainly a good side, they might also be getting by with a little help from the (Turkish) referees as well. Time will tell just how far this particular social engineering project will go, since there can be no doubt that the failure of the Osmanlispor project will have repercussions in Turkish football going forward.

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E-Ticketing Scheme Hits Roadblock in Turkey: What It Means For Turkey and Football

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On May 8th a court in Turkey decided to halt the new “Passolig” system “to avoid consumers being treated unjustly” according to a report in the Hurriyet Daily News. The new system had come into effect almost a month ago on April 15 and heralded an end to traditional paper tickets sold at ticket offices. Anyone who wanted to attend a match in either of Turkey’s top two divisions—the Spor Toto Super Lig and PTT First Division—had to get a card. At the time I was aghast. Having gone to many matches internationally I immediately thought of those like me—how would any foreign football fans get tickets?

The courts should be commended for making a decision that promotes both the health of Turkish civil society and Turkish democracy, not to mention Turkish football as a whole! After implementation the system led to drastically reduced attendances for Spor Toto Super Lig games. In fact, just one (1!) fan of Eskisehirspor acquired one of the new cards. Even when some clubs lowered ticket prices to just 1 Turkish Lira (0.47 USD, 0.35 EUR, 0.27 GBP) it failed to spark interest in the cards. This is mainly because in order to obtain the Passolig card it means providing a picture and personal information—which is written on the back. The card is basically a combination of an ID card and bank card (issued by MasterCard). The rather optimistic reasoning behind the need for personal information can be read as a poor attempt to justify the most blatant of moves to full-on Industrial Football:

 

PASSOLİG Card not only allows fans to safely enter stadiums without waiting in queues, but it also provides clubs a chance to know more about their fans and create new sources of income. Moreover, this card presents its users a wide range of shopping options with its widespread contracted merchants. Its personalized campaigns will both enrich and facilitate user’s lives.

PASSOLİG Credit Card, along with PASSOLİG Debit Card and PASSOLİG Cüzdan Pre-paid Card, are designed to meet all your needs.

 From: http://www.passolig.com.tr/sikca-sorulan-sorular

 

Of course, the football fans saw through this. The desire for personal information is not to create better understanding of consumers and their desires, it is more to curtail the actions of fans that the government sees as a subversive element. Over forty supporter groups signed a declaration saying “The e-ticket system does not only demote the concept of supporters to a customer, but it also files all our private data. The system aims to prevent supporters from organizing and is designed to demolish stadium culture and supporter identity.” One look at all the promotions available to Passolig card holders would support the idea that supporters are being relegated to the role of consumer and consumer alone. For now, the court’s decision is a small victory over the pervasive forces of Industrial Football. But that is not the only victory.

The simple fact that an NGO—the Supporters Rights Solidarity Center (Taraf-Der)—successfully applied to the consumers’ court is in itself a victory for Turkish civil society. Of course, when the first hearing of the case is heard September 25 we will see just how far-reaching this victory is. But it does ensure that the new season will start without the Passolig cards, and therefore certainly represents a victory.

One of the basic facets of a representative democracy (like Turkey) is respect for NGOs that represent the people—one need only look at the victories of the NAACP in the United States to understand this. This is the reason that this court decision should be heralded, especially if it leads to substantial changes in the Passolig card system next fall. While it is extremely difficult to predict how things will play out in the ever changing and extremely complicated halls of the Turkish justice system, I feel that the ultimate outcome of this case will provide a bellwether for the state of—and health of—Turkey’s democracy going forward. As Turkish football is an extremely profitable sector in the Turkish economy I hope that the judges treat this case with the importance it deserves.

 

Note: The statistics posted below are from Sendika.org, a socialist website that—in their own words—aims to “say hello to the proletariat and row against the neo-liberal tide”. With the disclaimer about the website’s politics out of the way, please see how the Passolig card system effected attendances for a few matches in its first weekend, the 30th week of the Turkish Spor Toto Superleague season. Personally I take these numbers with grain of salt, but they still give a good idea of the situation:

Kayseri Erciyesspor-Trabzonspor

Attendance: 11,000

Attendance for the previous home match against Elazigspor: 23.550

Akhisar Belediyespor-Kayserispor

Attendance: 1,100

Attendance for the previous home match against Eskisehirspor: 2,500

Gaziantepspor-Genclerbirligi

Attendance: 4,200

Attendance for the previous home match against Kasimpasaspor: 8,000

Bursaspor-Elazigspor

Attendance: 20,000

Attendance for the previous home match against Galatasaray: 23,500

Besiktas-Fenerbahce

Attendance: 20,000

Attendance for the previous home derby against Galatasaray: 77,512

 

The stands at the Istanbul Ataturk Stadium were left empty during Besiktas’ match with city rivals Kasimpasaspor:

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Image Courtesy of: http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/court-halts-controversial-football-e-ticketing-plan.aspx?pageID=238&nID=66193&NewsCatID=362

 

Just 285 Passolig owners made the trip to watch Kayseri Erciyesspor face Trabzonspor at the Kadir Has Stadium in Kayseri. Along with 2000 season ticket holders (exempt from the Passolig Card system), it meant just 2,285 fans were in attendance.

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Image Courtesy of: http://www.posta.com.tr/spor/HaberDetay/-Passolig–basladi-tribunler-bos-kaldi-.htm?ArticleID=224823