- Organisers consider event a success as football fans head to Negombo Beach Park for World Cup
By Shailendree Wickrama Adittiya
As the FIFA World Cup came to an end last night (18), so did the FIFA Fan Zone in Negombo, scoring big towards the latter stages of the Qatar World Cup, and attracting considerable crowds with live screenings of matches, entertainment acts, and food and beverage stalls.
Speaking to The Morning Brunch, Sri Lanka Convention Bureau Chairman (SLCB) Thisum Jayasuriya said the finale event yesterday doubled up on the usual weekend activities to give the crowd a good time.
“Every weekend, we had a band, we had entertainment, we had fireworks; we doubled up everything for the grand finale,” he said, adding that popular band LineOne played at the finale.
When asked if he felt the project was a success, Jayasuriya said it was, noting: “It was very successful in terms of the occupancy for Negombo hotels, and in terms of the event, there was good participation from both foreigners and locals, but obviously the local crowd was much greater than the foreigners.”
Jayasuriya added that several companies and brands came on board as sponsors as well, pointing to the event’s recognition as a worthwhile project.
Dropping by the FIFA Fan Zone setup at Negombo Beach Park last Saturday (17), when Croatia and Morocco faced each other at the third-place playoff match, with Croatia emerging winners, The Morning Brunch observed a considerable crowd, from groups of friends to families, all there to watch the game and enjoy the music, food, and drinks. Entrance being free was definitely key in bringing in the numbers, and the football hype was definitely in the air.
Bands like SPEED, Ants, Aura, and Check Point, as well as DJs Shenaz and Dinesh, made sure visitors were entertained before the matches began during the past few weeks, while fireworks signified the beginning of the games.
Speaking to football fans at the FIFA Fan Zone Negombo, The Morning Brunch learnt that many had positive thoughts about the event, seeing it as a good project. For those who live in the area, in particular, but also those who were visiting on holiday, or didn’t mind making a quick trip to Negombo, the FIFA Fan Zone proved to be an excellent way to spend the evening with family or friends.
While the organisers as well as visitors of the FIFA Fan Zone Negombo may consider the project quite the success, the delayed launch of the Fan Zone cannot be overlooked.
On 2 November, organisers officially announced the launch of a FIFA Fan Zone in Negombo, where all hotels and restaurants down Lewis Place were to cater to football fans, especially foreigners, who would be lured in with attractive deals and promotions to watch the games on a large screen set up on the beach.
According to the SLCB, the target markets were Qatar and all Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) countries, South America, Europe, India, and Russia. The ideas behind the concept included the capitalisation of the room shortage in Qatar and surrounding countries, the creation of a sporting entertainment atmosphere that the Gulf countries could not offer, and the comparatively low prices compared to the Middle East.
A different story three weeks ago
Negombo was to come alive for the FIFA World Cup from 20 November to 10 December, but during a visit to Negombo on 22 November, The Morning Brunch was greeted by a mostly empty beach and a hospitality industry that had received little to no information from tourism officials, despite the Ministry of Tourism, SLCB, Sri Lanka Association of Inbound Tour Operators (SLAITO), The Hotels Association of Sri Lanka (THASL), and Travel Agents Association of Sri Lanka (TAASL) promoting a three-night/four-day package starting at $ 650 per person.
Yohan, an owner of a hotel in Negombo, told The Morning Brunch at the time that no promotions had taken place two days into the launch date of the FIFA Fan Zone, and that Negombo was more or less empty. He added that most places were not making a profit, as there were very few tourists from abroad.
Another said at the time that despite hearing about the Fan Zone a week ago, he was yet to see anything in the form of promotions.
During our visit in November, it was clear that no fan zone had been set up by tourism officials, and any screenings were done by the restaurants and hotels themselves, within their capacity. One property had said they set up a large screen, which attracted a small crowd, but that most matches were shown on a small TV.
Another restaurant told us then that they were only screening FIFA World Cup games on a small TV within the establishment, but would consider setting up a larger screen if more interest was shown.
The Morning Brunch also reached out to a few football fans at the beginning of the Qatar World Cup, in order to better understand how they prefer enjoying the games.
Abdul Shiraz said he usually watches a screening of the final with his friends and has done so for every World Cup and major football events. With regard to events like the FIFA Fan Zone, he said he would definitely consider going, despite not having seen any major promotion for the event during the third week of November.
Hanan said that, being from Colombo, he found Negombo a bit too far to watch a game, while Bala said: “I am unaware of any local fan zones, but that’s not surprising, since I don’t watch local TV, and Twitter is the only social media on which I’m active. Anyway, given a choice, I would prefer to watch it at home, as I’m doing now.”
When asked about the Fan Zone last month, Arjun said: “I don’t think I can make it to Negombo, since I work in Jaffna and travel to Colombo only on weekends. So I usually watch the games at home or somewhere close by in Colombo.”
While the general attitude towards the FIFA Fan Zone was quite weak during the third week of November – perhaps due to it being the initial stages of the Qatar World Cup – the vibe in Negombo was a stark contrast last Saturday, with football fans heading to the FIFA Fan Zone that launched on 1 December at the Negombo Beach Park.
Photos Lalith Perera