Forget the AFL, what can we do to get more fans to A-League games?

Mike Tuckerman Columnist

By , Mike Tuckerman is a Roar Expert

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    The AFL’s move to play an experimental version of its sport on A-League grounds is nothing more than a blatant land-grab by a strangely insecure code.

    You can tell the Socceroos have just qualified for the World Cup, because the wild and wacky outbursts from AFL aficionados have reached fever pitch over the past week.

    First we had veteran AFL journalist Mike Sheahan struggling to understand the mechanics of the two-legged inter-confederation playoff, complaining that the first leg in Honduras was “rubbish” because neither team supposedly played to win it, before stating that the AFL wouldn’t have made anyone fly in economy class.

    Then former AFL player and coach Kevin Bartlett used his Hungry For Sport Twitter account to ask the hardest-hitting question of all just a day after the Socceroos reached the World Cup finals: “What should we (Australia) call the round ball game? Soccer or football?”

    And now we hear that the AFL is planning to debut its experimental ‘AFLX’ version at Coopers Stadium in Adelaide, just two days before Adelaide United hosts Central Coast Mariners at the same venue in the A-League.

    No one bothered to inform Adelaide United, of course, and a South Australian government which has received its fair share of exposure from the Reds’ various runs in the AFC Champions League presumably sees nothing wrong in cosying up to Aussie rules at football’s expense.

    ‘Twas ever thus – and even if having to invent a different form of AFL doesn’t say much for the excitement levels of the original version, the truth is that football has bigger problems to worry about than what Australia’s most Machiavellian code is planning to do.

    The first is trying to convince government officials that football is worth paying attention to.

    A recent Football Federation Australia press release screamed “FOOTBALL CONTINUES TO DOMINATE AUSTRALIAN CLUB SPORT” – yes, it was all in caps – and highlighted the fact that there are at least half a million more football players in this country than those who play Aussie rules.

    The subtext of the release was that football deserves more government support, and if you look at what’s happening in a city like Brisbane – where a Socceroos game in the near future is now apparently out of the question – it’s not hard to argue the point.

    Tom Rogic Socceroos tall

    No doubt Tourism and Events Queensland don’t enjoy seeing their name pop up every time the question of whether the Socceroos might ever return to Brisbane is raised, but the news that Perth, Melbourne and Sydney are all likely to do battle for a pre-World Cup friendly will go down like a lead balloon in Queensland.

    But even if a Socceroos game would invariably sell out at Suncorp Stadium – and bring in plenty of tourists at the same time – the fact is the same fans clamouring for the return of the national team are not exactly turning up at A-League games in any great numbers.

    As passionate as football fans in Australia are, it’s difficult to convince those with only a passing interest in the game of that fact when there are so many empty seats at A-League games.

    And we’re running out of time to salvage something from this season.

    Yes, there’s a lack of marketing, and at some point clubs and the FFA will need to re-think some sky-high ticket prices.

    And as frustrating as it is to hear, we’re going to be stuck with Thursday night encounters and late Sunday kick-offs for the foreseeable future. Other codes seem to make it work.

    Right now, the A-League could do with fewer excuses and more fans paying their way at the gate.

    Let the AFL have its fabricated summer fling.

    There’s nothing wrong with the product on display on our pitches – we just need to find a way to rekindle some interest at the turnstiles.

    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.