Sweltering summer A-League season hurts the hot cities

Evan Morgan Grahame Columnist

By Evan Morgan Grahame, Evan Morgan Grahame is a Roar Expert

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    Watching Adelaide United host the Brisbane Roar on Sunday, it struck me how lovely Coopers Stadium looks.

    A proper football stadium, with seats pushed up to the pitch margins, an azure sky dazzled overhead, and a snooker table pitch sat lusciously below.

    The stands are clad in Adelaide United colours, the architecture allows a pleasant breeze to wander through the rows, with crowning flags and neighbouring trees flipping and swaying cheerfully.

    The beers flow ice-cold into cups, and bead with a healthy sweat in the sun, quenching all those with a thirst, even if Coopers’ politics sit defiantly somewhere in the middle of the previous century.

    An image of Australian football emerges, a paradise in the minds of those whose romance of the sport isn’t intrinsically tied-up in the frigid sleet, rubbing hands and breath vapour more commonly seen in the game’s mother country.

    As an image, however, is how this scene is best enjoyed. Because what you can’t see on the television screens is that, in Adelaide during that game, it was 34 degrees Celsius, forcing the inclusion of a first-half drinks break, and making sitting anywhere on the sunny side of the stadium an almost masochistic exercise.

    When matches kick off at 5pm in the warm months, the eastern stand stares directly into the sun as it makes its lazy descent past the horizon. Having – as Adelaide residents have so often this summer – endured a blazing day, the prospect of baking in the final few hours of sunlight can’t be all that enticing.

    This has been a dismal season for Adelaide, and so the fact that their average attendance is down by about 4000 from their double-winning campaign last term is not a huge surprise. But it isn’t helped by afternoon kick-offs in oppressive heat either.

    On February 10, a touch over 6000 people watched Adelaide lose 5-0 to Perth, in a match that was postponed by an hour due to the temperature. It was 40 degrees that day, the third over-40 scorcher in a row. On January 29, at 4:30 pm, 8313 watched Adelaide draw 2-2 with the Phoenix, on a day that acted as a grand crescendo, 39 degrees, the top note of a torturous series of six days where the heat steadily rose from the low 20s to the high 30s.

    The two home games before that draw with Wellington had both cracked just over 10,000 punters, against the glamour pair of Melbourne City and Melbourne Victory. For both of those games, on a Thursday and a Saturday respectively, the heat peaked at 37 and 40 degrees.

    As soon as Reds fans realised that their team was not going to repeat the glories of last season – about four rounds into the campaign – they responded by staying away, not that that’s really a good reason not to support your team. But the fact that heat records tumbled throughout most of the eastern and southern states this season has also wilted the enthusiasm.

    This is not something, if all good climate science is to be believed – which it should be – that will become less common in the future; the world is getting hotter, and weather is becoming more erratic. So what’s stopping the A-League from becoming a winter league?

    Michael Theo is sent off

    Well, firstly, the issue of stadium availability rears its head. This point in the season – as rugby league and union teams all roll up, clicking their tongues expectantly, then tearing up the pitches and leaving – makes all of the A-League keenly aware of how difficult it is for football to co-exist with the the other codes in their seasons. There aren’t enough suitable venues to avoid scheduling clashes.

    A summer season also puts the A-League slightly more in sync with the European leagues, although how useful that is is debatable, when it puts us out of whack with the Chinese, Japanese and Korean leagues. Of the current 23-man Socceroos squad, 13 play in Europe, the rest play in Asia, the Middle East or Australia.

    Extreme heat is a danger to players and spectators, and we’ve seen clubs make complaints about sweltering conditions multiple times this season. Warm evening matches are pleasant in Melbourne or Wellington but they can be an active repellent in Brisbane or Adelaide.

    This entire discussion huffs and puffs beneath – unlike the weekend’s match – a cloud of pointlessness. The switch to a summer season was made with firm intentions, and the venue availability issue alone makes it extremely unlikely a switch back to Winter will occur.

    The fact that Adelaide have to attract crowds for more than two-thirds of the season in spite of temperatures that compel people to venture outside only with the intention of purchasing an air conditioner, is a niche problem. Still, projecting forward into the long-term, rising heat and extreme weather will only become more common.

    As it happened, the ending of the match against Brisbane was one of the more astonishing this season. The match played into the 100th minute, and Sergio Cirio scored a penalty against makeshift goalkeeper Thomas Kristensen, after Michael Theo was awarded a straight red card for throwing an elbow in the final minute of added time.

    Cirio’s penalty won the match for the Reds, and the 7197 people that had attended were given a raucous finale.

    Summer soccer can appear so comfortable from a distance, or when the thermometer reading is mild. But when attendance issues prevail around the league generally, and the sun beats down mercilessly, football and summer can seem such strange bedfellows.

    Evan Morgan Grahame
    Evan Morgan Grahame

    Evan Morgan Grahame is a Melbourne-based journalist. Gleaning what he could from his brief career as a painter, the canvas of the football pitch is now his subject of contemplation, with the beautiful game sketching new, intriguing compositions every week. He has been one of The Roar's Expert columnists since 2016. Follow him on Twitter @Evan_M_G.

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    The Crowd Says (94)

    • March 21st 2017 @ 9:42am
      MarkfromCroydon said | March 21st 2017 @ 9:42am | ! Report

      I watch a lot of South American football. I can tell you. it’s pretty hot over there a lot of the time. In the hotter areas and in the hotter months, matches are generally scheduled to kick off later in the evening. Some as late as 9.30pm! Now I’m not suggesting we have 9.30 kick offs, but I reckon the league could be scheduled better to avoid the extreme heat. eg higher proportion of home matches for Wellington in the hotter months, higher proportion of home matches for Perth and Adelaide in the cooler months, mainly 7.45-8.00pm kick offs for teams in the northern states etc.

    • March 21st 2017 @ 10:01am
      Nemesis said | March 21st 2017 @ 10:01am | ! Report

      I would like to see the top levels of Football across Australia restructure the scheduling.

      In particular, I’d like synchronization of the seasons for
      – ALeague
      – National 2nd Division
      – NPL State
      – WLeague

      I’ve written a discussion piece on this where I outline a new Football Calendar

      Apertura (opening season)
      Feb, Mar, Apr, May

      Mid Season break (internationals & club friendlies)
      June, July

      Clausura (Closing season)
      Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov

      Pro/Rel Play-offs/finals
      Dec to week-end before Christmas

      Post season break
      Christmas, Jan

      Full details: http://www.theroar.com.au/2017/02/24/changing-league-calendar-make-us-great-asia/

      • March 21st 2017 @ 1:00pm
        brisvegas said | March 21st 2017 @ 1:00pm | ! Report

        This is the best proposal I’ve seen so far. It is far and away the most Australia-centric.

        Whether it fits with FFA’s and their Foxtel puppet masters’ view of life is another matter. The no-free-stadiums mantra will surely be the stumbling block.

      • March 21st 2017 @ 4:44pm
        Tom m said | March 21st 2017 @ 4:44pm | ! Report

        There is no way the A League gets its current broadcast money if there was such an overlap with other football codes.

        • March 21st 2017 @ 4:48pm
          Nemesis said | March 21st 2017 @ 4:48pm | ! Report

          The highest average season crowds for ALeague occurred in the season when we started in August.

          That season we played matches on the same day as AFL & NRL Home & Away.
          We played matches on the same day as AFL & NRL finals.
          We played matches on the same day as the AFL & NRL Grand Final.

          The new structure for Australian club football that I’ve outlined, the only difference to what occurs right now is the overlap in August & September. Otherwise everything else is the same as this season & the past 5 seasons. And the AUG/SEP overlap is fine because we got the record high season average crowds the last time we overlapped with AFL & NRL in Aug/Sep.

          But, don’t let the facts interrupt your ignorance.

          • March 21st 2017 @ 4:53pm
            Tom m said | March 21st 2017 @ 4:53pm | ! Report

            If you think Foxtel will pay anywhere near as much for the A league if it were during winter you sir are the one who is ignorant. Those figures were back when the A league was in its Prime. Trying to compete against NRL and AFL is financial suicide

            • March 21st 2017 @ 5:40pm
              Nemesis said | March 21st 2017 @ 5:40pm | ! Report

              The ONLY difference between the restructure I’ve suggested compared to what we have today is

              * the restructure has ALeague playing in August & September; no Aleague from Christmas to end of Jan.

              Will Foxtel care? Nope.

              Subscriptions will be unaffected.
              Ratings? Well the ratings for ALeague over Christmas & January are crap, so it won’t matter.

    • March 21st 2017 @ 10:02am
      Caltex & SBS support Australian Football said | March 21st 2017 @ 10:02am | ! Report

      My wish is to end daylight saving for all time and start playing football no earlier than a 5pm kick-off AEST.

      • March 21st 2017 @ 8:01pm
        punter said | March 21st 2017 @ 8:01pm | ! Report

        No thanks Caltex, you stay in tht backward state, we are fine.

    • March 21st 2017 @ 10:18am
      Brainstrust said | March 21st 2017 @ 10:18am | ! Report

      Forget Europe, even though the most northern European countries play in summer not winter its still mild.
      European nations do not have to qualify in Asia , Australia does.
      Unless you adapt to the heat you will die in it. Asian qualifiers in the Middle East in summer are the most challenging in world football.
      The A-league needs to be played in more extreme conditions not less, they are wimping out when world cup qualifiers have no such regulations, and the women are given the short straw. The W-league at the moment is sent out in the middle of the day in summer in place of the men when the Matildas have the opposite requirements..
      The only time a Premier league team has had to compete in anything like hot summer conditions in Australia they were humiliated.

    • Roar Guru

      March 21st 2017 @ 10:41am
      Ben of Phnom Penh said | March 21st 2017 @ 10:41am | ! Report

      I tend to agree with the general sentiments echoed here that the answer lies in later kick-offs during the worsr of the Summer and in those places most prone to extreme heat (Adelaide & Perth). This may be to the immediate detriment of television dollars however that may be the price we must pay for an improved product.

      Stadium congestion is a reality that precludes wholesale movement of the season.

      • Roar Guru

        March 21st 2017 @ 12:33pm
        Griffo said | March 21st 2017 @ 12:33pm | ! Report

        Yep later kick-offs, not taking every cent offered.

        Unless the mid-summer months are on hiatus, later kick-offs are a must or have reserved days ready for cancelled games (as happened once in Newcastle this summar).

        Later kickoffs also help with crowd availability, although this depends on the area/city and the night in question.

        Perhaps discounts negotiated on rental agreements if poor surfaces are offered for matches could offset/minimise the loss of TV revenue if Foxtel play hard on scheduling.

        Agree stadium sharing is a separate issue, as is the quality of surface base on the season.

      • March 21st 2017 @ 12:38pm
        Caltex & SBS support Australian Football said | March 21st 2017 @ 12:38pm | ! Report

        “This may be to the immediate detriment of television dollars”

        How so, Ben, we have never had a proper conversation with FOX, about later kick-off times; I would think it would make no difference at all—even perhaps increase TV ratings.

        • Roar Guru

          March 21st 2017 @ 12:50pm
          Ben of Phnom Penh said | March 21st 2017 @ 12:50pm | ! Report

          Hence the qualifying statement, “may”. My point is that the risk of a reduction in earnings needs to be weighed against the improvement of the game, whereas at the moment there is a sense that the weighting is heavily in favour of the former.

        • March 21st 2017 @ 3:52pm
          Paul2 said | March 21st 2017 @ 3:52pm | ! Report

          I’m pretty confident that later kick offs would have a massive effect on the TV dollar. The situation as I see it is this:
          a) The TV agreement involves a commitment to play no games concurrently (they can’t even get them to play the final round concurrently, ffs!)
          b) The agreement likely involves some sort of commitment to the Melbourne and Sydney clubs playing in the prime time slot i.e. kick off b/w 7:30 and 8pm. The new arrangements with the FTA coverage will likely move us further in this direction.

          Granted those two things, it seems inevitable that home games for clubs like Adelaide and Newcastle will be pushed earlier in the day. Perhaps one option is to have those clubs play more Sunday evening games, though I’m not sure that would do too much for attendances.

          Interestingly, I’ve heard some Victory and Sydney FC fans expressing a preference for earlier kick-offs in view of problems getting the kids home at a reasonable hour for a game that finishes at 10pm, something that’s less likely to be a problem for smaller cities like Adelaide and Newcastle. Potentially, attendances may be lifted at both ends of the scale by ‘flipping’ the current arrangements. But the TV networks won’t like that.

          • March 21st 2017 @ 8:33pm
            Midfielder said | March 21st 2017 @ 8:33pm | ! Report

            agree always amazes me when people say we have never asked for … first how do they know … second their conclusion is always no effect … if correct we would have the worst admins in the world… when normally it has been asked for and the cost to do so is huge…

    • March 21st 2017 @ 11:22am
      wasted said | March 21st 2017 @ 11:22am | ! Report

      The gratuitous & irrelevant political comments (gay marriage & climate change) detract from an otherwise decent article. Keep to the point & stop ramming your politics down our throats.

      • Roar Guru

        March 21st 2017 @ 11:39am
        Ben of Phnom Penh said | March 21st 2017 @ 11:39am | ! Report

        Climate change is science, not politics, and as such the changing weather patterns need to be taken into consideration when looking at future scheduling of matches.

        • March 21st 2017 @ 11:43am
          wasted said | March 21st 2017 @ 11:43am | ! Report

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