Midweek, in the 26th round, the Brazilian Championship had its biggest crowd so far – 67,011 turned out to watch Flamengo lose 2-0 to Coritiba.
It is a highpoint in what, in this sense at least, has been an encouraging campaign. Ticket prices remain controversially high, but average crowds this year have been above 20,000 – the best for some time. This is all the more striking since Brazil has run into an economic recession.
A reason can be deduced that, for all its problems, organising last year’s World Cup did indeed leave a legacy for Brazilian football. Some of the stadiums always looked to have dubious viability – even CBF director Walter Feldman last month recognised that the most expensive, In Brasilia, was “an excess.” But the stadiums in the heartlands are being well used. And it seems that, despite the disastrous performance of the national team, the World Cup served as an effective advertisement for the stadium experience. This trend was timidly evident last year, and has appeared to have flourished in 2015.
Another factor behind the crowd increase has been the introduction of 11a.m. kick offs on Sundays. This was brought in as an experimental measure, tried out on one game per round. It quickly proved so popular with the fans that there are now two games every Sunday at this early hour. Crowds at the 11 o’clock games have been some 30% higher than those for matches at other times, and the authorities have been happy with a less violent, more family atmosphere.
But it is one thing to play at this time in the cool of winter – and another entirely when the temperatures start rising. In the last few days there has been a sudden hot spell, an early blast of summer, and four sets of players felt the effects on Sunday.
Corinthians preserved their 5 point lead at the top of the table with a 2-0 win over local rivals Santos, the goals coming late as the players wilted in the conditions. Corinthians attacking midfielder Renato Augusto, just recalled to the national team, spoke for many of his colleagues when he described the early starts as “horrible. I’m very much against them. You can’t have second halves kicking off at mid-day.”
Further north in Goiania, the temperature varied between 40 and 45 degrees as Goias beat bottom of the table Joinville 3-0. Defeated coach Paulo Cesar Gusmao said that “it’s hard enough just standing in the technical area. Playing at this hour in Goiania at this time in the year is humanly impossible. All the players were complaining. If I had 11 substitutions I would have made them all at half time.”
All of this would seem to be confirming the worst fears of Turibio Leite, a physiologist with vast football experience, who campaigned against the 1 p.m. kick offs in last year’s World Cup, especially those in the tropical North East. After conducting lengthy tests, he argued that holding matches at this hour was dangerous for the players. And he also feared that the World Cup matches would be used as a justification to introduce games at a similar time to the domestic calendar.
A meeting will take place with the clubs at the end of the month to debate the matter. But, as it stands, 11 o’clock kick offs are scheduled at least until October 18th.
The title race, meanwhile, appears to be hotting up as a two horse race. At the weekend there were defeats for the teams who went into the 27th round in 3rd, 4th and 5th (Gremio, Sao Paulo and Flamengo respectively). And while some have faith in a late charge from free scoring Palmeiras, who now move up to 4th, they remain 8 points behind Atletico Mineiro, who themselves trail Corinthians by 5 points. So it would seem to be between Atletico and Corinthians, with the second placed team pinning plenty of hopes on the fact that the leaders have to visit them at the start of November – a match already being built up as a potential championship decider.
For the sake of the spectacle, it is to be hoped that this is not a game which will kick off at 11 in the morning.