Why A-League crowds are really down
It is well known and documented that the A-League is suffering. Average crowds are well down on what they once were and what seems like every second club is either in finical disarray or have managers who do not want to be there.
Ironically, however, this is at odds with the actual ‘product’ that is being served up to the brave few that actually attend the matches.
The level of football being presently played in the A-League is of a higher standard than previously seen and this trend has continued each year the competition has ran.
Consequently, it seems quite reasonable to ask why the crowd figures continue to dwindle. Australians have proven over the years that they will, generally speaking, pay their money to see a sporting event that will entertain and provide a contest.
True, the Australian form of the game is clearly not of the lofty standards set by some of the European leagues, but it is live football being played at a time of the year when there is nothing else on. Let’s face it, the only other option is domestic cricket, and we all know how many spectators those games draw.
Take Brisbane, currently sitting pretty in second on the ladder, for example.
Where have the fans gone?
Having lived in the state’s capital through the club’s infamous home drought, I can attest to the average crowd figure being well in excess of 10,000. So why now, when the club is playing the best football in it’s existence, and breaking records for undefeated stints at Lang Park, finding it so difficult to attract the four-figure crowds this season?
The same could be argued about Gold Coast FC, when Shane Smeltz netted enough goals to sink a ship, and Clive had to cap the crowds at a mere 5000. The answer is a combination of factors.
It seems those in charge of running the A-League have taken a leaf out the rugby league code’s administrators’ play book of how to run a business – and completely forgotten.
These attractive fixtures are not flaunted in the public’s eye with imaginative television advertising. They are absent from billboards along the main roads featuring the latest and greatest imports, roped in to playing here, somewhat ironically, to lure a crowd.
Instead, the only people who know these games are even about to be played are probably the same fans who read this article – mad sports enthusiasts.
While it is good that there exists a natural base of supporters for the A-League, if it and the clubs that participate want to survive, much more needs to be done to catch the attention of the wider public, and show them the style of football the rest of us are already enjoying.
That is not to say, however, that the product itself is perfect either. What those that have chosen to stay at home don’t witness, thankfully, are the ‘only in the A-League’ moments that seem to be creeping in to games.
For example, Melbourne Heart custodian Clint Bolton was yellow carded a couple of matches ago for ‘marking the surface’. Yes, I too had never seen a card produced for such a ludicrous reason before either. The penalty came about just before the second half whistle while Bolton was performing common limbering exercises.
In the same match, a countless number of potentially career-ending tackles were flying in, with studs for all to see, and were being waved ‘play on.’
Having witnessed almost every fixture this season (thank the Lord for Foxtel), these obscure moments are becoming commonplace. The referees have clearly been instructed by the FFA to rule the game in a way so as to ensure we do not end up with a ‘soft’ game.
But then, we see endless yellow cards for extremely technical fouls such as having the ball kicked in to the defender (quite deliberately) of a free kick who has not yet retreated the required distance. Alternatively we see flashes of yellow for kicking the ball away a millisecond after a free kick has been awarded.
Even though in all likelihood the act that drew the free kick was much more worthy of a card!
For spectators having actually taken the plunge and attended a game, witnessing these sorts of blunders, is what will make them not return so quickly.
I’m sure these attendees would rather see a player yellow carded for diving in at the legs of an attacker, than red carded for diving, and suspended without recourse to appeal the sentence – another A-Leagueism.
We have not even touched on the Mark Bosnich scenario presented by the FFA yet.
Here is one Australian who would definitely draw a crowd being given the chance to help out one of the new teams in the competition, being relegated to the stands for not having a licence. Even though the guy who he would be sitting next to (a much more likely crowd-puller, Robbie Middelby) does not possess one either! Only in the A-League.
The higher-ups in the front office of the A-League need to start taking their own product a little more seriously if they want their supposed clients to.
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