Asian Cup 2015: Asian Cup Attendance Exceeds Expectations


Roy Hay

With two games still to play – and one of those involving the host nation – the 2015 Asian Cup looks set to exceed the Local Organising Committee’s expectation of half a million spectators by over 20 per cent.

After last night’s semi-final between Australia and the United Arab Emirates, the total attendance so far is 561,178, an average of 18,706 per game. Australia as host has been the big drawcard, of course, with an average of 38,233 attending its matches so far. But what is perhaps more striking is that games where Australia is not involved have drawn 14,800 on average, and the atmosphere at these games has been everything the organisers could have wished for. Interestingly, since 1992, only when the tournament was hosted by China in 2004 and Japan in 1992 have there been significantly higher proportions of spectators at games where the host country was not involved. So the tournament as a whole has captured the imagination of Australians in a way that would hardly have been credible when planning began.

When the Asian Cup started in 1956, the final tournament had only four countries taking part, now there are 16 and the next iteration in 2017 – likely to be held in the UAE – will have 24. This reflects the growing popularity of the game throughout Asia and the attention devoted to this showcase. Television audiences have been huge and the coverage on social media has grown exponentially.

Only the FIFA World Cup and the big European and South American Confederations’ equivalents exceed this tournament in standards and attendance. The African Nations Cup being played at the same time as our tournament may have some brilliant, high-quality teams taking part but it tends not to draw the crowds. This year they have a specific negative factor in the Ebola crisis, which resulted in the relocation of the tournament from Morocco to Equatorial Guinea virtually at the last minute.

While numbers are important, the overwhelming impression is that the atmosphere in the stadia in Australia created by the fans themselves has been the stand-out feature. Despite being bombarded by screeching ground announcers, deprived of replays of on-field incidents, and subjected to some of the vagaries of willing, but often ill-informed volunteers, the fans have made the tournament.

The variety of collective fan behaviour is remarkable. Uzbekistan fans got through one game with a repetitive drum-led single-word chant, but had much more variety in their next outing. The Japanese at national level seem to have a limited repertoire of songs/chants. For once, they did not rise in intensity and passion as their games went on. I wonder if this was an influence on the Blue Samurai’s capitulation to the United Arab Emirates? At Iran versus Iraq, by contrast, it seemed to be total anarchy, especially late in the game as the match swung one way then the other. No sooner had one group launched into its favourite victory song than the opposition were out-singing and out-shouting them.

At Australian games the hard-core football regulars could not quite get the momentum they are able to generate at Melbourne Victory, Western Sydney Wanderers and Adelaide United A-League games. In Newcastle on Tuesday night, I think the tension of being so close to the final and the memory of a previous 2–0 lead in a World Cup qualifier in 1997 may have paralysed the locals, whose support was not as noisy as some commentators expected. There will be a lot of ‘theatre-goers’ for the final in Sydney on Saturday, but I hope they will be carried along by the fans for whom football is a regular, not an occasional, element in their lives, and will be very vocal supporters of the national team.




  1. G’day Roy,

    It’s interesting to read your writing. As a Japanese, we are taught to behave well rather than expressing what we really think or passion at childhood. That’s why I reckon you think Japanese spectators at the national level sport competition don’t show passion comparing with you guys.

    Although I have never attended an AFL game, I feel footy fans show much more passion than baseball or soccer fans in Japan. I would show strong passion and emotion at a stadium when I watch a St Kilda game at a stadium because I love the Saints very much!

    I have heard that more Australian kids get involved in playing football (soccer) now than old days. I have researched about numbers of spectators in the A-League and AFL. While Melbourne Victory has most average spectators at 26,376, Central Coast Mariners only has 8,388 (fewest at the competition). Even GWS Giants have 16,082.

    I think Australian tend to watch cricket in the summer rather than soccer.

    Soccer is popular here in Japan, but I am surprised to hear that Jubilo Iwata, a soccer club in the First Division of J-League competition has only 8,774 spectators average. Popular baseball games have around 50,000 people every game even they play six days a well during the season.

    In my opinion, the reason why not so many fans from outside Australia watch an Asian Cup match at a stadium can be because of the travel costs. But it’s just guessing.



  2. Thanks for all these thoughts, Yoshi. I have been enormously impressed by the passion and commitment of Japanese fans, both at club matches and international games in the past. It was just during this particular tournament I felt they were not living up to my expectations, when often their increasing involvement in the later stages of the games would seem to carry the Blue Samurai to victory. This time, they were more like the Australians in Newcastle, almost too afraid of falling at the last hurdle and hence tentative in their support.
    I am sure that travel costs are a big disincentive for fans from Japan and other parts of Asia. The support for the other teams in this Asian Cup comes from a mixture of touring fans, people of the heritage of the country concerned now living, working or visiting Australia, and Australians who have adopted the the visiting team and some other Australians who either bought venue tickets or just went along to see what the competition was all about. I can’t provide any data to quantify this, but the categories do exist

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