Cameroon’s elite football championship is two match-days old and it seems to be creating an unprecedented buzz. The TV channels are awash with programmes about the matches played this far with Canal 2 International and Equinoxe TV even managing the feat of keeping the list of players called up for Cameroon’s final World Cup qualifier on the backburner of their Monday sports magazines.

But that’s not all. The Cameroon Football Federation (FECAFOOT) seems to be working late shifts too. As I visited their website, I noticed an interesting message scrolling across in French: “buy a match ticket to the Big Game between Tiko United and Canon of Yaounde on match-day 3 and win a motor-bike and other prizes.”

Given the way the motor-bike taxi business (aka bendskin) is thriving in Cameroon this could be an interesting way of blending leisure and investment for a few smart guys.

I gather Cameroon’s Minister for Sport has urged the federation to do its utmost to attract fans who only appeared in their thousands at national team games while players in the first division played in empty stadiums. This motorbike stuff is surely one of Fecafoot’s strategies to achieve the target set by the minister. Wow!

The first games of the season seem to have attracted more people than I’ve seen in at least four years. It is not only down to the draw of winning a motorcycle. It is also the result of innovations in the way Fecafoot are marketing their games.

They are making use of the multitude of radio and TV stations in the country by broadcasting announcements of upcoming games like they have never done before.  They have also come up with the brilliant idea of asking clubs to do a press conference  a day before each game, which allows the media to have what to bite and thus tell stories that would create interest in the matches.

However, what is key is product – football. I believe if the football is good people would come back for it. If it is of doubtful quality, no level of marketing would keep people on the grounds.

Sadly, in a country where few skilful players manage to play two seasons in the league before they are shipped out to wherever in the world including Indonesia, Vietnam and Lebanon, there is very little quality left to see.

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An Elite league pitch this season- photo credits: Camfoot.com

Except if one of the quality criteria is “how to control a ball on a terrible pitch.” MTN Elite 1 and MTN Elite 2 are played on rugged, dusty, muddy (adjective is determined by the season but it is always a sorry-site) playgrounds.  Where the turfs are “alright” like the artificial surface atthe Reunification ,  the facility itself is decripit ( dilapidated stands, overgrown bushes, etc).  It is at least functional as the Garoua and Yaounde omnisport stadiums. 

The mobile telephone operator that is the league’s main sponsor has initiated a laudable venture to construct low cost stadiums across the country. But I doubt that they would be encouraged by the fact that the first facility -MTN Mbouda Municipal Arena – is not in use as a result of a shameful ethnico-political and judicial imbroglio. 

The local club Bamboutos of Mbouda were relegated to the third tier of football by the Federation on allegations of corruption. A charge which they’ve denied and got a civil court to overturn. But the federation maintained its decision and elites have variously argued that using the stadium could cause insecurity from irate fans.

Apart from the absence of facilities there is no live TV coverage to provide a sense of national interest. Consequently, most people who claim they are soccer fans in Cameroon hardly know the names of more than five players in the MTN Elite 1 whereas they can name all the first and reserve team players of Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, Lyon, Marseille,…

Without live TV, there are no broadcast rights leaving the clubs struggling for funding. They either hope for community mercy and contribution or place the team under the guidance of a rich son of their region of origin. Caiman of Douala has gone a step further by putting the club in the hands of a popular musician – Adolphe Claude Moundi – alias Petit Pays. 

His presence at the Dschang stadium for the opening game of the Elite 2 season between host Aigle Dschang and Caiman of Douala, was a crowd-puller.

Maybe they’d attend the next game  in the hope of winning a motorcycle. But my wish is to see more people going to the  field to watch a football game – just like most of them buy a beer for 500 FCFA (cost of a ticket) to chill-out.

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