The A-League is too good to be this bad

Mike Tuckerman Columnist

By , Mike Tuckerman is a Roar Expert

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    If an A-League game was played in a multi-purpose venue and no one was there to watch it, was it really a proper football game?

    Thank heavens Melbourne Victory are at home to the Western Sydney Wanderers in the pre-Melbourne Cup holiday fixture tonight, because less than 40,000 fans filed through the gates for the other four A-League fixtures this weekend.

    That’s despite Melbourne City hosting Sydney FC in a top-of-the-table clash, Newcastle Jets being afforded a rare primetime fixture, old foes Perth Glory and Adelaide United going head to head at the revamped nib Stadium and Brisbane Roar enjoying the chance to make a statement against the Central Coast Mariners at home.

    And it’s a problem because, like it or not, metrics count. More fans inside the ground means a better atmosphere, more impressive TV broadcasts and a bigger chance of more cashed-up companies pledging their support.

    At the moment we can’t even get so-called football fans to do that.

    It’s not just attendance figures that are worrying.

    Saturday night’s TV ratings were – to put it mildly – shocking. An average of just 54,000 viewers tuned into One’s coverage of the Jets versus Wellington Phoenix in front of a virtually empty McDonald Jones Stadium.

    That’s about half of what the match of the round used to average on SBS – a network that was frozen out by Football Federation Australia because too few people were supposedly watching over on Viceland.

    So what happens now that no one is watching over on Network Ten’s second channel either?

    The late Saturday night kick-off between Perth Glory and Adelaide United didn’t fare much better over on Fox Sports, leading former Reds chief executive Grant Mayer to tweet, “Just not sure they got it right with the schedule”.

    Scheduling! It wouldn’t be the A-League if it wasn’t a persistent concern.

    No surprise, then, to see the Newcastle Jets follow up a home game against Western Sydney with another home game just six days later.

    A-League crowd empty seats

    (AAP Image/Darren England)

    Sydney FC recently played three home games in a row. Meanwhile, Melbourne Victory will get their contractually-obliged five home games at Etihad Stadium out of the way as quickly as possible, playing all five of their first home games at the unloved venue before decamping to AAMI Park.

    They’ll also play a home game at Simonds Stadium in Geelong. A Paul McCartney concert means Brisbane Roar will take one of their home games to Cbus Stadium on the Gold Coast.

    It’s not the worst thing in the world to play A-League games out of regional venues, but all the chopping and changing means loyal supporters never get the chance to settle into a regular match-going rhythm.

    And on the evidence of the first five rounds of the season, casual fans no longer seem interested.

    It’s worth, however, putting some of these numbers into perspective.

    The ‘weather-affected crowd’ of 6,258 – as the Newcastle Jets called it – was decidedly small, and comes on the back of the Newcastle Herald publishing a passionate pre-season call to arms.

    But it’s worth pointing out that a dismal crowd of just 12,293 turned up at Canberra Stadium for the Rugby League World Cup clash between Australia and France on Friday night, suggesting Aussie sports fans aren’t turning out for anything in particularly large numbers right now.

    And compared to the dying days of the National Soccer League – just 1,433 fans watched the Jets take on the Kiwi-based Football Kingz when the two sides met in the Hunter in December 2003 – the A-League is a veritable hotbed of passion.

    We just need a little bit more of it from all quarters to help get through a disappointingly subdued start to the season.

    Because negativity begets negativity, and the A-League can ill-afford to get caught in a downward spiral from which it has no hope of returning.

    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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