Dear fellow A-League fan, it takes only a quick glance of the A-League-related articles on this site to realise the passion you have for this competition in Australia.
I also realise that you are desperate for changes and improvements to the way the sport is run in this country. I too want the A-League to be the best it can be, but when I consider all of the issues at play (in my own ignorant layman way), I cannot help but feel that your criticism of the FFA is a little bit over the top and unbalanced.
Firstly, consider the unique market the FFA finds itself in. There are three other competing football codes! While I am a thirty-something male with no children and disposable income, and can afford to go to 25+ games across football, rugby league and cricket each year, this is not often the case for families.
Rugby league and AFL in this country are giants. They have been around for over 100 years each, whereas the A-League is very much in its infancy. Whether it be the ratings of rugby league or the gate takings of the AFL, it is fair to say that a proportion of the income earned from those two sports is income lost to the A-League.
It is income that could be spent on any number of things to improve the game. Financially, the FFA are up against it in a country with a small amount of people.
The A-League should certainly dream big. It seems that it has now ascended above Super Rugby to no.3 in the country, but try as I might it is very hard to see the A-League matching the attendances of the AFL anytime soon (one of the highest average attended competitions in the world), or the viewership of the NRL. The new NRL channel Fox League become the most watched channel on Foxtel for the first time this week.
It is absolutely fair for you as a paying fan to expect high standards of our administrators, but respect must be paid to the extremely difficult situation they find themselves in.
Another of your common gripes seems to be scheduling of matches in the A-League. Again, consider the near impossible task the FFA have in developing their draw. The Brisbane Roar share a stadium with two other teams, as do Sydney FC.
Western Sydney are currently homeless but when they get to return to their new digs it will be with a housemate, and in Melbourne you have four, that’s right four, teams using AAMI Park throughout the year.
This is not to even mention Coldplay, Ed Sheeran et al. Sure the A-League could probably try a little bit harder to have some match ups a little bit more spaced out, but in the whole scheme of things, is this really one of the most pressing issues the game faces?
Because what is the actual supposed downside of this haphazard draw? Two derbies drawing massive crowds in the space of three weeks. Geez that is awful! Talk about taking the glass half empty approach.
Getting some new stadiums built is without doubt a crucial aspect of the A-League’s long term future, but being that this is not on the agenda for now (or anytime soon), you need to accept the reality of the situation on this matter.
Your criticism of the spacing out of match-ups goes hand in hand with the length of the season. Some of you think the season is too long, while others suggest the season should be longer. On the first opinion, is it not an AFC requirement that member’s seasons be 27 games minimum?
Being that you have ten teams playing each other three times for 27 games total, this seems an absolutely natural and reasonable amount of minimum games. I love sport, so I would have no problem with there being more games, but more games is likely to accentuate the congestion of match-ups as discussed above so it would appear as though the FFA are damned if they do, damned if they don’t on this front.
When you suggest the season is too long, you point to this season meandering on towards the back end this time around. I think this was more just a product of Sydney FC’s dominance this year. The race for the plate was essentially over ten weeks ago, but I doubt you were complaining about the length of the season last year when three teams were still in the hunt come the last round.
This is not criticism that can be in any levelled at the FFA in my opinion.
Which leads me to expansion, the golden ticket that could fix many of these problems. You have mounted a case for each potential expansion site at length on this site, so I won’t go over them again in any great detail.
What I will say is this. The task ahead for the FFA in choosing which two teams to bring in is an extremely difficult one, and one I’m fine with them deliberating on. Every prospective team is both exciting and problematic in its own way.
As you have said, if you bring in a third Sydney team, where do you find 10,000 new football fans that previously haven’t been turned on by Sydney FC or the Wanderers? Hobart is exciting, but there must be a heap of reasons why no other code has gone there yet.
The locational identity of the disparate southern bid has been discussed by you at length here. Gold Coast has been tried and failed, and still struggles to support teams in the other codes. A second Brisbane team could create healthy competition for the Brisbane Roar, but I’m weary of introducing a derby partner with no geographical differentiation (which is why the Sydney derby will always be the favoured of the current two for mine).
You get the picture I’m trying to paint (with very long brushstrokes, apologies for that!). I want expansion, and I want it yesterday. But the choice is a massive one that shapes the future of the competition.
Introduce two more success stories like the Wanderers, and the A-League is invigorated for years to come. Introduce two like the Northern Fury, and you can forget about your 13th, 14th, 15th or 16th teams anytime soon. The decision is one that should be well thought out and considered. There is no particularly obvious choice.
The FFA has a lot of work to do. But I just cannot bring myself to level too much criticism at this point until they have been afforded a reasonable opportunity to act on these imperatives. They have said that the two new teams will most likely come in for the season after next.
Therefore, strap yourself in for another problem-riddled season before anything is done. If expansion does not come to pass at that time, that would be the time for criticism. Until then, enjoy the action on the pitch!