A-League crowds are a concern, even if the football is fine

Mike Tuckerman Columnist

By Mike Tuckerman, Mike Tuckerman is a Roar Expert

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    The A-League can ill afford another season of stagnation just because those who run the game are preoccupied with hanging on to power at all costs.

    Sydney FC picked up where they left off last season as two Bobo goals either side of Michael Zullo’s ferocious half-volley helped see off a spirited Wellington Phoenix 3-2 in an entertaining clash at Allianz Stadium.

    There was something new about the fixture – a 7pm Sunday night kick-off – and something we’ve seen plenty of before, namely empty seats.

    There was nothing wrong with the football on display. So why did so few fans choose to go see it?

    Those who insist we should focus on the action instead of the attendance are missing the point. There won’t be any action if the A-League isn’t self-sustaining.

    And right now, after two rounds of reasonably impressive football, it seems that some fans have missed the memo.

    That’s not to criticise the supporters who do show up at games and tune in on TV. If pointing out where the A-League can improve is purely an act of navel-gazing, then it’s also an exercise in preaching to the converted.

    One of the most frustrating aspects of the A-League is not that it lacks passion on and off the pitch, but rather that it’s such a tough sell to convert new fans to the game.

    Compare the round we’ve just watched to the snorefest that was Manchester United’s trip to Anfield to face Liverpool on Saturday, and the A-League comes out looking pretty good.

    There was plenty to admire across the five games of the weekend, from Massimo Maccarone’s first A-League goal to Danny De Silva controlling the midfield for the Mariners, to a feisty Melbourne derby and an enthralling draw in the Hunter.

    And the big crowd that showed up at McDonald Jones Stadium on the back of the Newcastle Jets giving away thousands of free tickets proved that sports lovers will come out for the A-League if you give them an incentive.

    The problem is that it all just seems so difficult to do. Take Friday night in Brisbane as an example.

    On a noticeably humid evening, Brisbane Roar and Adelaide United played out an absorbing contest on a pristine surface at Suncorp Stadium, with foreign signings Maccarone, Daniel Adlung and Johan Absalonsen particularly impressive for the two respective sides.

    Trouble is, the match kicked off at the awkward local time of 6.50pm, making it tough for some office workers and those who live outside Brisbane to make it in time for kick-off – especially given the city’s notoriously heavy Friday night traffic.

    A-League crowd empty seats

    (AAP Image/Darren England)

    But given the lack of daylight savings in Queensland, the kick-off time is a necessity if all of the Friday night fixtures across the country are to start at the same time on Fox Sports.

    And with the broadcast rights now bringing in some $57 million a season, is it any wonder TV companies should feel entitled to dictate which times they think will generate the largest audiences – including Sunday nights?

    There have been numerous complaints about Network Ten running ads during breaks in play in their broadcasts on One – surely a bigger concern is that they’re showing it in Standard Definition – but wasn’t the goal to get the A-League on commercial TV in the first place?

    There’s a bigger issue at play here – one that may take a FIFA normalisation committee to help resolve – and it’s the fact that Football Federation Australia is so heavily embroiled in a power struggle, they appear to have very little time for the football itself.

    It’s safe to say the marketing around the new A-League campaign has been largely non-existent.

    So it is that we’re left once again to lament a lack of fans filing through the gates.

    The derbies always help. If only we could convince some of those fans to come back again the following weekend.

    Mike Tuckerman
    Mike Tuckerman

    Mike Tuckerman is a Sydney-born journalist and lifelong football fan. After lengthy stints watching the beautiful game in Germany and Japan, he settled in Brisbane, and has been a leading Roar football columnist from December 2008.

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    The Crowd Says (229)

    • October 16th 2017 @ 6:14am
      Daniboi said | October 16th 2017 @ 6:14am | ! Report

      Two points…

      1. I’m a City fan and the first, last and only reason I didn’t go to the derby with my five children on Saturday night was the price of tickets. They are simply ludicrous. And the crowds now reflect this. It’s simply not affordable for a family.

      2. City have five games scheduled for 7:00 on a Sunday night. I would love to meet the genius who decided this. Even if you watch it on tv at home. It’s still too late for children to watch the game and get to bed at a decent hour before school the next day.

      • Roar Guru

        October 16th 2017 @ 11:57am
        tully101 said | October 16th 2017 @ 11:57am | ! Report

        as a uni student, these times really arent an issue for me, however it is so easy to understand why.
        surely someone at FFA HQ could predict that late sunday nights would have poor attendances, just look at our final last year. 11k a fortnight before, on a friday night, then only 9k in only our second final, on a sunday night (3k down from the exact same final last year)

    • October 16th 2017 @ 7:16am
      Neil said | October 16th 2017 @ 7:16am | ! Report

      In Brisbane 6.50 pm on a Friday night is just too difficult, of the 11,000 that went a lot were still arriving after kick off.For me it takes a 40 minute train trip alone to get to the game. 7.30 would be a far better time.

      • October 16th 2017 @ 8:04am
        Waz said | October 16th 2017 @ 8:04am | ! Report

        There were still queues of fans outside the stadium when Maccarone’s goal went in after nine minutes. Why would anyone bother making the effort unless they live close?

      • October 16th 2017 @ 8:36am
        Christo the Daddyo said | October 16th 2017 @ 8:36am | ! Report

        And if it started at 7.30 you’d get complaints that the game was too late for kids to attend. Which is not to invalidate your point – just that there are pros and cons for both options.

        I’m not sure what the answer is for Friday night games. Maybe try to schedule them for smaller venues?

        • October 16th 2017 @ 8:42am
          Waz said | October 16th 2017 @ 8:42am | ! Report

          There’s always individuals who will prefer a different time but 6.50 as a kick off does not suit kids either, because they can’t get there in good time either. The family zone normally has about 2,000 people in it, on Friday it had about 200.

          • October 16th 2017 @ 11:56am
            CrampsRowZ said | October 16th 2017 @ 11:56am | ! Report

            Yeah it’s a toughie but you’ll generally get more kids at a Sunday game than a Friday night game anyway
            I’d say a later kick off means more of a build up for the game such as those at home can actually watch the build up, and means people have time to get to the game after or from work
            I think the pregame march also works better with a later kick off

            I prefer a later kick off but at the same time a significant portion of our support is families so understandable if they want to try make it easier for them

    • October 16th 2017 @ 7:24am
      I ate pies said | October 16th 2017 @ 7:24am | ! Report

      Sounds like the A League have the same problem that the NRL does – TV deals dictate their start times, and will eventually kill their games. They need to take control of their start times back. 7pm on a Sunday night? That’s about the worst possible time to get a crowd.
      To attract new fans will take a cultural shift, but that’s an entirely different conversation. My wife came up with a good idea over the weekend though – shift the local soccer competitions, especially juniors, to a spring comp like the A League has. That way the kids don’t have to choose between soccer or footy; they can continue to play both. Having more kids playing for longer has to be a good thing. It’s a simple solution too.

    • October 16th 2017 @ 7:37am
      jamesb said | October 16th 2017 @ 7:37am | ! Report

      The A League reminds me of the NRL. Both comps schedule unsuitable times, and therefore it will affect crowds.

      Why couldn’t the Brisbane game kick off at 8:30pm (7:30pm local)? The Friday night game isn’t on FTA anymore. And with the Sunday game, 7pm is too late. At least kick off at 6pm.

      The FFA’s marketing isn’t that great, but at least they can sort out the kick off times, otherwise the A League will struggle to get a crowd

      • October 16th 2017 @ 8:30am
        AR said | October 16th 2017 @ 8:30am | ! Report

        I think that’s right.

        There’s no perfect time that suits everyone (families prefer 2:30pm Sat, others 7:30pm) but the NRL parallel is an astute one.

        If you have modest attendances to begin with, and then make changes to the season schedule to fit with television screening times (NRL), attendances can wobble.

        But I’ve always thought ALeague crowds were quite healthy.

        The bigger concern is the television output so far.
        First, Mike, its $44M per year, not $57M.
        Second, the TEN ratings have been surprisingly poor. After making its Commercial FTA debut with 2 of the biggest games in the 2 opening rounds, ALeague games on TEN are rating about 40% what they were 3 years ago on SBS2. I must admit, I’m a little stunned by that.

        Given ratings are *always* highest at the start of the season and then plateau, this must be worrying for Gallop and O’Rourke.

        • October 16th 2017 @ 9:48am
          Brian said | October 16th 2017 @ 9:48am | ! Report

          Disappointing though a lot may have had their football fix from the Socceroos or Liverpool v Man Utd. The usual weeks of no socceroos and a worse EPL game which starts at 2am would increase HAL ratings.

        • October 16th 2017 @ 10:00am
          mattq said | October 16th 2017 @ 10:00am | ! Report

          I wouldn’t bother tuning into SD either

        • October 16th 2017 @ 1:07pm
          Nemesis said | October 16th 2017 @ 1:07pm | ! Report

          “First, Mike, its $44M per year, not $57M”

          Nonsense.

          The TV deal with Foxtel is for 6 years and a total of $346m. Or, $57.6m/yr average over 6 years. Foxtel also paid an additional $4m/yr to acquire the FTA TV rights to onsell to Ten Network. Then we have the additional fee for overseas rights that were purchased by IMG.

          To quote a figure of $44m/yr is just utter nonsense and the poser knows it is utter nonsense.

          • October 16th 2017 @ 1:32pm
            marco said | October 16th 2017 @ 1:32pm | ! Report

            Less the contra component – no cash there Robbo!

            • October 16th 2017 @ 3:40pm
              Nemesis said | October 16th 2017 @ 3:40pm | ! Report

              Yet, when the AFL/NRL TV deals are lauded, it’s always the full figure quoted. The Cash & Contra. You posers are so predictable with your nonsense, it’s pathetic – a reflection of your lives for the next 6 months.

          • October 16th 2017 @ 9:16pm
            AR said | October 16th 2017 @ 9:16pm | ! Report

            You gotta love Fuss attacking people for getting the facts wrong…just as he himself is getting the facts wrong.

            Mike said “the broadcast rights now bringing in some $57 million a season”.

            That is wrong. Anyway you cut it, its wrong. And Fuss should know better.

            The first year of the broadcast deal brings in approx $44.5M in cash (plus $6M in contra).

            Not $57M.

            Then, the cash component *can* increase in the ensuing years…IF the FFA introduces new franchises into the competiton (which obviously hasn’t happened so far)…and IF it was able to sell the FTA rights conponent (which it obviously was unable to do).

            Go on. Post something else that’s wrong.

      • Roar Guru

        October 16th 2017 @ 10:04pm
        Paul D said | October 16th 2017 @ 10:04pm | ! Report

        Yep, I think it’s exactly the same issue at play. Plus, as with league you can see the entirety of the game on TV – there’s not much happening off the ball.

        I would also add Sydney crowds are terrible at pretty much every domestic sporting event there.

    • October 16th 2017 @ 8:02am
      Waz said | October 16th 2017 @ 8:02am | ! Report

      Football has been shooting itself in the foot for so long it’s got nothing left to stand on; average crowds this season will likely slip below 12k across the board with even the prescious derbies failing to sell out and save the day.

      Never has there been such incompetence in the running of a sport, we are at the point where we will get what we deserve – the game, at all levels, is being run into the ground and no one with any power to change things seems to care.

      • October 16th 2017 @ 8:36am
        cambrai said | October 16th 2017 @ 8:36am | ! Report

        As a committed fan of the A League, it is a real worry for the future that Sydney Fc is the worst supported club in the competition as far as attendances at the ground are concerned. Surely after last season ‘s triumph and wins over Victory and in the FFA Cup semi final, one is entitled to expect a lift in interest. But the atmosphere at the ground was decidedly flat; must be disheartening for the players.

        The situation with the Wanderers is no different .

        It is well and good to blame the Federation and match scheduling for ‘poor’ crowds; it is easier than facing the question: in Sydney, people maybe are simply not interested in attending football games; after all the crowd for the game against Syria was not encouraging.

        • October 16th 2017 @ 8:48am
          Waz said | October 16th 2017 @ 8:48am | ! Report

          I think you should be concerned, this is the season to lift your core support. The entire A League needs a lift but it won’t get it while the ffa is focussed on power for itself (nor did it get it while the ffa focussed on a WC Bid or an Asian Cup either).

          At the moment the chairman of football in ACT, Tasmania and the Northern Territory has more say over the HAL than the ten owners. Not until the recommendations made in the Crawford Report are implemented will the competition stand a chance.

          • October 16th 2017 @ 10:03am
            mattq said | October 16th 2017 @ 10:03am | ! Report

            the Crawford report was 15 years ago. I hardly think it could be implemented back to front now, it wouldn’t be relevant (entirely)

            • October 16th 2017 @ 11:53am
              Waz said | October 16th 2017 @ 11:53am | ! Report

              An independent A League is still relevant.

          • Roar Guru

            October 17th 2017 @ 8:10am
            Griffo said | October 17th 2017 @ 8:10am | ! Report

            I think that is the key Waz: if the past is anything to go by with the FFA dropping focus on the A-League during the World Cup bid (and admitting later that the domestic league suffered as a result), it is poor to have the same thing happening again for a different reason.

            Still that isn’t the sole issue with crowd malaise in some areas. A lot of variables that differ from region to region imo.

    • October 16th 2017 @ 8:03am
      Onside said | October 16th 2017 @ 8:03am | ! Report

      I am a Roar fan. Watch on TV. Live 2 hours drive up Bruce Hwy.

      I am missing something this season but not sure what it is.

      Maybe we need more teams, a broader interest instead of ‘derbies R us’.

      There’s a sense of , even though I’ve missed this contest,there’s two more to come .

      It’s also taking me a while to get to know the new players in the teams.

      This is neither a grizzle, nor bellyache, I’ve watched some riveting contests.

      I am just adding my thoughts to the mix.

      Re the nub of the article, crowds are pivotal to atmosphere , so half empty stadiums
      are the antithesis of a ‘I must be there’ excitement, if not quality of football.

      • October 16th 2017 @ 11:02am
        Dennis said | October 16th 2017 @ 11:02am | ! Report

        I didn’t even know the games were on ONE Sat. I stream them all live via BT Sports in UK. An online deal is crucial for younger fans and kids. Kids don’t control remotes, they contol iPads and IPhones

        One problem never gets a mention. That as a former young NSL fan, I really don’t have a passion to go every week. Out of the 7,000 at Lakeside, how many went to the derby? 400? Maybe.

        Same when Olympic/Syd United drew 10,000 to a GF. The following Sunday there would have been 250 max turn up to watch Sydney FC.

        The answer is not bringing in South by the way. It is treating the clubs that still dominate junior football numbers with a reason to go. WSW was a step, a geo based Vic team will be the next answer and a proper 2nd tier to feel part of the system is the next answer after that.

        For all the quality during the Winter, finally only King Kenny was the one NPL signing after the season started. If I have a talented junior I don’t send him to the HAL. I tell the parents to havw a crack whike overseas in the country they know or UK and trials.

        I can predict like all of us out there the 3-4 title contenders and that won’t change much year on year with only 10 teams. MV/Syd or MC/WSW will win the premiership and grand final. Money and size.

        Just as if not more interesting in the HAL, would be in a year or 2 which club will be bottom and replaced by Ipswich or Gewlong or Hobart ir whoever that finishes top of a geo NPL provided they met some basic criteria.

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