As the season rolls on, this year’s A-League is looking more and more like Baz Luhrmann’s “epic” Australia: a lot of hype and promotion, a lot of hope pinned on expensive local talent (hello John Aloisi) and more than anything, a poor reception at the box office.
Despite the fact highlight reels have been flooded with superb goals over the past few weeks, fans have been staying away in their droves. The weekend’s second-straight round without a crowd of over 10,000 officially marked the end of the honeymoon period.
No longer can the A-League pitch itself as the bright, young new kid on the block.
The drastic decline in support has revealed that the problem runs deeper than first expected. Those within the football family that expected expansion would turn things around must surely have to think again.
It was assumed that watching the same eight teams running around for going on four years had grown tired and that the influx of two new teams would provide a much-needed injection of variety to the competition.
But seriously, if variety was everything, we wouldn’t have seven clubs still sporting white playing strips every time they’re on the road.
And when fans are not pointing to expansion as the saviour, they are pointing to the global financial crisis as the reason for the decline.
This is despite the fact that, according to Roy Morgan research, consumer confidence began to plummet back in January and has levelled off since then.
Admittedly, things aren’t what they were a year ago.
But if a cutback in spending was truly a driving force behind football’s crowd woes, there would’ve been similar evidence of struggle in the winter codes.
Clearly, there wasn’t.
AFL crowd figures actually increased. The NRL escaped a tumultuous year off the field to see only a small drop in support.
Alas, it is fair to say there is more to it than just monotony and the economy.
Put simply, the A-League has had its day in the sun. Things haven’t been the same in Melbourne since the Victory tore season two to shreds. Things haven’t been the same in Sydney since “All Night Dwight” was bringing in the fans.
The momentum fuelling those glory days is the same sort of stuff that made the Reds take over Adelaide during the AFC Champions League.
Expansion will not address the issue of how to ensure A-League clubs are not just one-hit wonders. If anything, it will create two more one-hit wonders, exacerbating the problem down the track.
Of course, expansion also presents concern in the fact that a 10-team competition will require a 27-round season.
This works against the principle of bringing fans through the gates on two fronts.
Firstly because it is asking fans to rock up for an additional three home games. Membership numbers, which have only just found themselves solid foundation after a dreadful first season, will take a hit solely on this basis.
Secondly, we are likely to see mid-week games introduced to accommodate the extra rounds. Wednesday night games are hardly a big drawcard and have yet to prove themselves in this country outside of major events (such as State of Origin and the business end of the ACL).
Kudos must be given to the FFA for not underestimating the issue. They are currently conducting market research on the state of the competition.
Hopefully the research will help re-kindle that old spark the A-League once had.
After all, it’d be scary to think that a couple of extra teams only differentiated by the colour of their sleeves should have to shoulder all the burden.