Why are bottom-club Adelaide’s crowds so good?

Ben Somerford Roar Guru

By Ben Somerford,

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    Adelaide United's fans seen during the AFC Champions League semifinals second leg match between Bunyodkor and Adelaide United in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, Wednesday, Oct. 22, 2008. AP Photo/Anvar Ilyasov

    Despite a season of on-field struggle, A-League cellar-dwellers Adelaide United have managed to retain excellent attendances this campaign with an average home crowd of almost 11,000. So I decided to ask Reds Chief Executive Officer Sam Ciccarello how they’ve done it.

    To emphasise the point of their success, throughout this A-League campaign only the populous centres of Melbourne and Sydney have managed better average crowds than Adelaide.

    For a club who’ve regularly been amongst the on-field leaders in the A-League (having only missed the finals once when they finished 6th in 2007-2008), the 2009-2010 campaign has been a different one for the fans, yet they’ve still flocked to Hindmarsh.

    Ciccarello started, “I think it is a cumulative thing in terms of the support we’ve received this year. It’s been outstanding, notwithstanding the ordinary season we’ve had.

    “And there’s definitely been a drop-off in our crowd numbers when you have a sustained period of results that don’t go your way. You tend to get a drop-off.”

    But Adelaide’s drop-off has been far less dramatic than seen from other A-League clubs in the past, which is amazing considering the Reds have gone from Grand Finalists last season (with average crowds of 11,712) to likely wooden-spooners (where Hindmarsh averages are currently sitting at 10,959).

    And Ciccarello believes there’s a lot of factors behind those figures, but acknowledges the club’s wonderful journey to the 2008 AFC Champions League (ACL) Final has helped greatly.

    “We believe our extraordinary successes, even though we didn’t win the Champions League, gave us a platform in 2008 to be able to connect with our community, not just the sports community or the football community, but the general public in a different way,” Ciccarello said.

    On the back of that, he claims had the club achieved their minimum on-field expectation of a top 4 A-League finish this campaign, the attendance figures could be even more impressive.

    “We’ve got record memberships this year. The signs were very strong, especially during the early part of the season. But we haven’t been able to deliver on the expectation that we set ourselves and that we promised our fans.

    “Our view is that if we had performed to our expectations on the field that in fact our crowd numbers would have regularly sold out Hindmarsh Stadium. That’s how strongly we feel that our supporter base has grown in the last two to three years.”

    But Ciccarello believes there’s more to the figures than just their 2008 ACL campaign and points to several key initiatives employed by the club over the last two to three years, which have ensured they’ve been able to engage with the local community and develop a core group of loyal supporters.

    “Part of why we are where we are is, we believe, that one of the main pillars of our organisation is to ensure that our connection and relationship with our community is very active and a meaningful relationship. There are a number of key parts to that.

    “We have, I would say, the most comprehensive wide-ranging program of grass roots in our community. It is significant, it is about corporate, it is about the general public, it’s schools programs, it’s about connection and relationships with sport and with clubs.”

    Ciccarello mentioned several initiatives with community engagement at heart, including their rebate program whereby anybody who buys a membership can direct 25% of those dollars back to their local club. It has seen United distribute over $70,000 to local clubs.

    The Adelaide CEO also mentioned other initiatives such as their strong membership drive, academy program and their warm relationship with the media as reasons for added local interest in the club.

    And Ciccarello revealed the club got plenty of positive feedback following their membership drive which included the popular Friday Night Shout, which allows members to bring four friends free of charge to any match subject to subscription.

    Adelaide have also enjoyed hosting eleven of their fourteen home games this season on a Friday evening and Ciccarello acknowledged that has contributed.

    “What we’ve found through past experience and member feedback is that Friday night is the most popular night to maximise match attendance. People love going out on Saturday nights, but there’s a lot of competition in terms of other offerings.

    “And Friday nights is not without it’s competition either, but it was the strongest supported. A lot of people would come straight from work, the office and make a night of it.”

    He added, “Because we’ve been able to have 11 out of 14 home matches on Friday nights, the offering in terms of consistency and regularity its easier to say ‘I know I’m going to be available for a fair chunk of them, so I can grab a membership’.”

    And Ciccarello indicated he wanted more Friday night games in Adelaide for next season and beyond.

    “We’ll be strongly lobbying for as many Friday night games as we can. But I’m not sure what the other ten clubs will want next year, I’m not sure what suits other markets. But in terms of match attendance, our fans and members voted with their feet.”

    The Reds CEO also acknowledged the intimacy of Hindmarsh, the A-League’s smallest capacity stadium, may have helped create a better atmosphere and gameday experience.

    “There’s some very strong points about Hindmarsh Stadium and the rectangular arena. From a viewing perspective it is the ideal arena, it’s what our game is designed for.”

    But he also revealed an ambitious side about the club, stating, “Hindmarsh is a stadium which accomodates 16-17,000 people and I think that the medium to long-term ambition of our club is to attract more towards 15-20,000 people on a very regular basis. So hopefully we outgrow Hindmarsh in years to come.”

    He concluded, “We’ve definitely got to do a lot more in terms of growing our numbers to get to that point, the sport is moving forward, there is greater take-up, there is greater interest and that also goes for the club.”

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    The Crowd Says (40)

    • January 29th 2010 @ 7:15am
      True Tah said | January 29th 2010 @ 7:15am | ! Report

      I think Adelaide are a fair bit more entrenched than most other clubs with the possible exception of Melbourne and the Central Coast. I suspect making the Asian Club Championship final as well as two HAL finals would certainly have helped this. The other two factors I think which would contribute are that Adelaide United was in the NSL, which would give it a longer history than most of the other clubs, and the strength of AFL in SA.

      Im probably going to get shot down by futbol heads, but the AFL culture promotes going to games and watching them live, and I think this follows into futbol, as Im sure many Adelaide United supporters are also fans of the Adelaide Crows or the Power. Im aware that the Melbourne Victory advertise in AFL publications, Im not sure if this is the same in SA.

      • January 29th 2010 @ 7:55am
        whiskeymac said | January 29th 2010 @ 7:55am | ! Report

        i cant see how you’d get shot own for that – it stands to reason thata citizen of SA wld already have an established sports culture, for the Reds to be so successful (and whata great initiative the Shout is) they wld need to be aware of and in some respects mimic whats already knownand expected in the City. how much they borrow from sports such as AFL, 20-20 i dunno but it sounded like a good point to me at least. in any event there is precedent for such tactics, its how paganism was incorporated into christianinity (not that the you u/s i wld call AFL pagan or football christianinty it is by way of a simple example only)

      • Roar Guru

        January 29th 2010 @ 8:52am
        AndyRoo said | January 29th 2010 @ 8:52am | ! Report

        The AFL has done the hard work of conditioning people to buy memberships and that breads much more loyalty to their club than what we see in NSW/QLD.
        No doubt Adelaides crowds would have dropped if they didn’t have that culture.

        It also gives you the grace of a bad year, if Adelaide make a few good signings over the off season then they probably won’t suffer any losses next year.

      • Roar Guru

        January 29th 2010 @ 11:17am
        Australian Football said | January 29th 2010 @ 11:17am | ! Report

        True Tah,
        Futbol in Adelaide have a passionate bunch of supporters and I think they realise that this year has gone, but the ACL is still very much alive for them. AU FC will try to redeem their high standards and give it their best shot for the ACL to repay the faithful for standing by them.. In truth they have been very unlucky this year with some results not going their way and their football has no been all that bad—–it’s hard to believe they are sitting where they are..

        ~~~~~~~
        AF

        • January 29th 2010 @ 12:21pm
          BigAl said | January 29th 2010 @ 12:21pm | ! Report

          Futbol ?????

          • Roar Guru

            January 29th 2010 @ 2:47pm
            Australian Football said | January 29th 2010 @ 2:47pm | ! Report

            BigAl,
            yes that’s right “Futbol”—-that’s what True Tah (his second parra) prefers to call it and has done for over a year or so and that’s fine with me—–concentrate BigAl… 😀

            ~~~~~~
            AF

            • Roar Guru

              January 29th 2010 @ 3:02pm
              Australian Football said | January 29th 2010 @ 3:02pm | ! Report

              btw BigAl,
              you are slipping in your con-cen-trat-ion ‘Punter’ has also referred to it as ‘Futbol’ in his comment to True Tah… Maybe he has some Portuguese blood line—–somewhere perhaps ? I think its kinda cool and global don’t you think..? Not too pretentious is it..? 😀 I mean I’m not going to report him to the moderators like you do—–if that’s what you are getting at. ?

              ~~~~~~
              AF

            • January 29th 2010 @ 3:14pm
              dannyshepherd said | January 29th 2010 @ 3:14pm | ! Report

              leave the textspeak to teenage girls…

              • Roar Guru

                January 29th 2010 @ 4:29pm
                Australian Football said | January 29th 2010 @ 4:29pm | ! Report

                I don’t think that will go down well with True Tah 😉 and nor should it.. If he prefers to use Futbol instead of soccer—-good luck to him, I’ve always admired folk who have a second language.

                ~~~~~~
                AF

            • January 29th 2010 @ 5:24pm
              BigAl said | January 29th 2010 @ 5:24pm | ! Report

              I am concentrating – thats how & why I picked up you subtle change in attitude !

              So can we now expect a change in moniker to . . . Australian Futbol ?

              That would actually be pretty cool ! . . . very 3rd millenium and multcultural.

              • January 30th 2010 @ 4:00pm
                True Tah said | January 30th 2010 @ 4:00pm | ! Report

                Using futbol eliminates any doubt as to what sport I am referring to, here in Australia and the USA, the word football can mean two differant sports. If I was an Englishman, then I would no doubt use football.

                Plus as you have aluded, futbol does give acknowledgment to Latino cultures who embraced futbol the most.

                The final thing is, growing up and watching Les Murray on SBS, he says futbol, and it made an impact.

              • February 18th 2010 @ 3:19pm
                Daniel King said | February 18th 2010 @ 3:19pm | ! Report

                Yeah whatever true Tah, whatever!

        • Roar Guru

          January 29th 2010 @ 12:47pm
          ItsCalledFootball said | January 29th 2010 @ 12:47pm | ! Report

          AF,
          AU are rumoured to have two potential buyers in negotiations – the Coopers Brewing Group and the Makris Group.

          Thay are also looking to recruit some players and get rid of a couple (including Owusu to China) for their next Champions League campaign in a few weeks.

          • Roar Guru

            January 29th 2010 @ 2:49pm
            Australian Football said | January 29th 2010 @ 2:49pm | ! Report

            Great news… for Futbol 😀 and for Football for us Aussies.

    • January 29th 2010 @ 7:42am
      Punter said | January 29th 2010 @ 7:42am | ! Report

      True Tah,
      I’m a futbol head & I think you have hit the nail on the head.
      Adelaide has with CCM & MV, the most consistent teams in the HAL.
      They have by far the greatest achivement of any football (futbol) club side in Australia by getting to the ACL final last year.
      They have a long history being a NSL club.
      Football though a long way behind is the 2nd most popular football code in SA, they are encouraged to go & watch the games live. Remember while Melbourne has the tennis & Spring carnival, Adelaide only has the football to fillin during the off season for football (all codes) fans.

      This is the same as Perth except that they have not had the success of Adelaide.

      • January 29th 2010 @ 12:22pm
        markwakefield said | January 29th 2010 @ 12:22pm | ! Report

        futbol???????????

    • January 29th 2010 @ 8:05am
      whiskeymac said | January 29th 2010 @ 8:05am | ! Report

      Do other clubs have nay similar initiatives such as remitting 25% to a club/ the Fridayshout. these seem like very progressive and positive moves to engage the community. I wld hope new teams take note and adopt similar strategies, especially the WS Rovers. with such a large football community these cld help them engage a fairly fickle “potential”.

      Am curious, has Adelaide always done this – did the FFA have a say in it… wld new owners decide it wld effect the bottomline too much?

    • January 29th 2010 @ 8:06am
      wtf said | January 29th 2010 @ 8:06am | ! Report

      Adelaide United grew out of the Old Adelaide City it had one season in the NSL and drew bigger crowds then what we have now. But the Adelaide United of the NSL was a different beast and many people turned there backs once the A-league started, it’s only now that they are starting to come back.

      Sadly there still is a lot of football people in SA that refuse to go the games.

      Now I just wish we could win a game!!

    • January 29th 2010 @ 8:08am
      wtf said | January 29th 2010 @ 8:08am | ! Report

      I think the rebate started 3 seasons ago

    • January 29th 2010 @ 9:00am
      AGO74 said | January 29th 2010 @ 9:00am | ! Report

      Kudos to Adelaide. Good initiatives which have no doubt helped. I have not been too Hindmarsh but for mine it looks like a great place to watch football and it always seems to have a good atmosphere . Being a lifelong Canterbury Bulldogs supporter I yearn for the days of a return to Belmore (or an equivalent venue). Bulldogs average about 20,000 which is a sizeable crowd but it is seriously diluted in the vacuum of 60,000 empty seats. Adelaide only have half of Bulldogs average attendance but in a 15,000 seat football specific stadium, it is a much more intimate venue. For that reason I hope that the new West Sydney team plays at Parramatta Stadium or Penrith Park rather than being suckered in by the $$$ offered to play at Homebush.

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