Yesterday marked yet another year in which Orlando Pirates missed out on a DSTV Premiership title. That’s ten years since Pirates’ last league title in 2011/12 in which the club also won the MTN8 and Telkom Knockout.

Sentiment on social media and other platforms has been roundly negative and particularly scathing of the coaches Mandla Ncikazi and Fadlu Davids. One of the clubs biggest and longest-serving fans, Mama Joy, even left the club to go and support league debutants, Royal AM.

But what do the numbers say about Pirates fans and the strength of the brand?

Ma Mkhize (left) and Mama Joy (right)
Ma Mkhize (left) and Mama Joy (right)

According to a Nielsen Sports SA 2020 research survey of domestic football fans, Orlando Pirates is still the second most supported team in the country and also ranks highly among fans second favorite teams to support. It’s worth noting that Mamelodi Sundowns, with their success over the years, are still way off the Pirates and Chiefs pace. That said, they are now firmly the favourite ‘second team’ to support.

Nielsen Sports SA Domestic Football Support

Viewership numbers indicate that Pirates was also the second most watched team in the league in 2019/20 across SABC and SuperSport channels. These numbers have largely stayed consistent in the covid years and are indicative of the continued pulling power of the Chiefs and Pirates brands.

Pirates have ensured that they ramp up their digital marketing efforts to meet the demand for non-live content which they deliver through their app and Pirates TV YouTube channel. The style and glamour of the players, thanks to Pirates’ partnership with Adidas, has often got fans tongues wagging but sadly the sparkle has not translated to performances on the field of play.

Average Viewership For Premiership Football Teams 2019/20

Where fans have shown their discontent is in crowd attendance. At the time of winning their last league title in 2011/12, the club averaged 16,478 fans a game but stadium attendance had plummeted by half to 7,852 in 2014/15.

In the years since then, some fans have returned and 2018/19 was a particularly good year for the club with average attendance figures topping 16,000 fans. It is quite clear that despite only winning two titles in the ten year period since the last league title, fans stayed away for long periods but the return prior to the coronavirus-enforced stairway shows that the “once a pirate always a pirate” saying rings true. Whatever the club have done from a marketing perspective has worked.

Pirates Attendance

As a Pirates fan, this piece is interesting to write because I am genuinely unhappy with the performances of the team and have generally watched fewer matches over the years because of that. But the numbers suggest that the Pirates brand has been very resolute over the years and although some dips in fan attendance were seen, this trend is not unique to Pirates and is suffered by the entire league.

Positives aside, Pirates do need to find a way to start appeasing the fans again through title winning runs. There is a young generation growing up now who don’t know Pirates as a winning team and they are the fans of the future. To ensure that the club stays relevant to them, they need to do more than look great in match build-ups or media campaigns.

The winning must return.