Football World Cup eliminations dash small business hopes

From Colombia to Nigeria, traders in football-loving nations are counting the losses of failure to make it to Qatar 2022.

A deflated football is seen on the sidelines of a football field in Nigeria
The World Cup, which kicks off in November, is big business, generating billions of dollars in consumer spending in tourism, food and drink, merchandise and more [File: Afolabi Sotunde/Reuters]

Colombian food vendor William Abella had been counting on the Qatar World Cup 2022 as an opportunity to offset his losses from long COVID-19 lockdowns.

When the national team plays, his small corner shop and snack bar in central Bogota usually turns into a sea of yellow. Football fans wearing the team’s official shirt gather to drink and chat, lifting beer sales by up to 80 percent.

But like many small traders in footballing countries that unexpectedly failed to qualify, his hopes for bumper business from fans cheering on their side have been dashed.

“With Colombia out of the World Cup, I’m expecting my beer sales to decrease by about half,” said 65-year-old Abella.

The World Cup, which kicks off in November, is big business, generating billions of dollars in consumer spending in tourism, food and drink, merchandise and more.

But as businesses across the world gear up to cash in, developing countries known for their football prowess – yet which failed to qualify – are counting their losses.

From street vendors in Colombia to shopkeepers in Algeria and owners of football viewing halls in Nigeria, small businesses and informal workers who rely on cash-in-hand earnings during football matches fear a big decline in income.

In north Bogota, street vendor Roberto Teyes sold and traded stickers for the Panini football album during the last World Cup, hosted by Russia in 2018.

“There’ll be less interest in collecting stickers as the Colombian team won’t be in the album,” said Teyes, adding he earned up to $130 daily in sticker sales. “I’d hoped for a good end to the year. I really needed it after COVID.”

Merchants association Fenalco estimated the team missing out on the World Cup would result in economic losses of about $810m, mainly due to effects on merchandise sellers, bars, cafés, and travel agencies.

“Colombia’s elimination from the World Cup brings serious consequences for the country’s commerce and tourism,” said Fenalco President Jaime Alberto Cabal.

In the 2018 World Cup, when Colombia reached the last-16, Fenalco members reported a nearly 40 percent rise in beer sales, 20 percent in spirits, 19 percent in TV screens and 12 percent in soft drinks.

‘Painful’ loss

In Nigeria, another football-mad nation and home to Africa’s largest population, David Anomweh, who runs a sportswear stall in the commercial capital Lagos, is also in the doldrums.

Much-fancied Nigeria – who have appeared in six of the last seven World Cups – also failed to qualify for Qatar, leaving millions of fans bereft.

The Super Eagles’ shock defeat to staunch rival Ghana not only led to riots by angry fans who stormed the pitch, but has left some businesses and traders reeling.

From shops to cafés, business owners in Lagos had expected to make good profits, and some had already made investments on the presumption the national team would qualify.

“My dad already ordered 50 Nigerian jerseys hoping to begin to sell them if Nigeria qualified,” said Anomweh, manager of Ugo Ways Sports in Lagos’s bustling Yaba market.

“Now Nigerian jerseys in the market are totally useless,” said Anomweh, adding the order had cost 250,000 Naira ($602).

Owners of Nigeria’s popular football viewing halls – large spaces with giant screens where people can pay a fee to watch matches – also complained about revenue losses.

“It’s painful because Nigerians like to watch Nigeria matches compared to club matches,” said Jide Joseph, owner of a hall with a capacity of 80 in Fadeyi, a suburb of Lagos.

Joseph, who has been running the business for 20 years, said he was expecting full capacity for Nigeria games and had expected to earn 10,000 Naira ($23) per match, compared with 700 Naira ($1.7) for other matches.

“Now that Nigeria didn’t qualify, people will not come out to watch other teams. I will not be able to make any money from any match,” he said.

Remi Ugo, owner of the Blue Spot Café, a bar and restaurant in the Shomolu suburb of Lagos, said Nigeria’s failure to qualify would hurt many businesses like his.

“About 80 percent of my customers come here to drink just to watch matches,” he said. “I’m sure people will not turn up much for the World Cup matches.”

Sunk costs

In Egypt, home country of Premier League footballer and national hero Mohamed Salah, fans of the beautiful game gather in coffee shops to watch matches.

Moustafa Mehres, a 36-year-old café owner in an eastern Cairo neighborhood, said his daily sales double when the national team plays.

“Instead of having 20 customers during the whole day, I get 40 customers in just two hours,” he said.

In another part of the capital, in Cairo’s historic el-Gamaliya neighbourhood, clothes-shop owner Waleed el-Kurdi, 30, had hoped for a bonanza fueled by the tournament.

During the Egypt-Senegal qualifiers in March, sales at el-Kurdi’s shop were up by 25 percent as fans snapped up T-shirts of Salah along with scarfs and flags of the national team, which failed to qualify.

“My sales reached about 2,000 Egyptian pounds ($109) during the week of the match alone,” he said.

In the Algerian capital, Algiers, Mohamad Bachouch, 59, faces a similar problem at his small shop after stockpiling Algerian flags, shirts and mugs with the names of national team football players.

“When Algeria got knocked out, tears streamed from my eyes because I knew I had lost a lot,” said Bachouch. “This means I’ll have to keep them until, maybe, the next World Cup.”

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation