Brazilians rush to support shattered Chapecoense soccer club

The club was almost wiped out in a plane crash in Colombia, but has since more than doubled its paying membership and been offered players on loan from clubs around the world.

Paulo Whitaker/Reuters
Fans of Chapecoense soccer team pay tribute to Chapecoense's players at the Arena Conda stadium in Chapeco, Brazil, November 30, 2016.

Brazilians have rallied around the Chapecoense soccer team in the two days since a plane crash in Colombia nearly wiped out its squad, more than doubling the size of its paying fanbase, a club executive said on Wednesday.

The club, based in a remote southern corner of Brazil, had about 9,000 paying members at the start of the week, acting President Ivan Tozzo said. They have since added more than 13,000 from across Brazil, with the cost of membership ranging from 16 reais ($5) to 185 reais ($55).

"That shows you how people really want to help," Mr. Tozzo said. "The scale this team has taken on - no one ever imagined it."

Along with the outpouring from fans, Chapecoense has received support from many of their largest rivals in Brazil.

A group of major clubs has called on the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) to guarantee Chapacoense's presence in the top division for three years. Teams as far off as Benfica in Portugal have also offered to lend players as the club rebuilds.

Tozzo said the club was grateful, but it would also need a boost from one of the sport's biggest sponsors in Brazil, media group Globo, which pays teams for TV rights in rough proportion to the scale of their fan bases.

"Our club has one of the smallest budgets in Brazil in terms of - I'll say it - money from Globo," said Tozzo. "We will indeed need the help from clubs and also from Globo, the CBF and everyone else to rebuild our team."

Last year Chapecoense ranked 17th of 20 teams in Brazil's top league in revenue from TV rights, receiving 25 million real ($7.3 million) versus an average of 70 million reais, according to sports finance specialist Amir Somoggi.

With scant revenue from transferring talented players overseas, Chapeco relied on the money from Globo, which made up 54 percent of its 2015 revenue, according to Somoggi.

Globo was not immediately available for comment after normal business hours. ($1 = 3.4066 reais)

(Reporting by Brad Haynes; Additional reporting by Andrew Downie in Sao Paulo; Editing by Daniel Flynn and Lisa Shumaker)

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