How does the A-League rate?

dinoweb Roar Guru

By dinoweb, dinoweb is a Roar Guru

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    The Central Coast Mariners head to Melbourne to take on the Victory. (Photo: Paul Barkley/LookPro)

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    It’s a question we all have an opinion on, fans and detractors alike. A much-publicised survey came out a few weeks ago, ranking Australia in the top 20 leagues of the world, but is this reasonable?

    How does the A-League really stack up against the rest of the world?

    It’s a question I have asked myself, and in fact I first wrote this piece several months ago trying to answer just that.

    It’s never likely to be answered on the pitch, but given the fascination many seem to have for attendance figures, perhaps they might provide one source of comparison.

    First, let’s check the history.

    After an encouraging start, the A-League attendances quickly grew before undergoing a major slump, and then recovering in the past two years.

    While it is impossible to compare that with the established European leagues, we can look at the J-League and MLS, both of which are relatively recent start up leagues, and often used as benchmarks for the A-League.

    The J-league kicked off with an average crowd attendance of about 18k and grew to 19.6k in year two, but by season five slumped to only 56 percent of the opening season attendance with 10.1k.

    It took a further seven years to surpass that first season tally with 19k in season 12.

    Since then, their total has levelled off at between 18 and 19k, so no real growth since that opening year.

    The MLS has a similar story, 17.4k in season one but suffered a steady decline to a low of 13.7k (79 percent) in season five.

    It took the MLS a further 11 years to pass the season one total with 17.9k in season 18 (2011) and a 5 percent increase in 2012 to 18.8k

    The A-League started with 11.2k, grew to 14.6k in season three, and dived to a meagre 8.4k in season six (74 percent), but recovered dramatically in seasons seven and eight with the recently completed home-and-away season coming in just under 12.7k (113 percent).

    The J-League and MLS took 12 and 16 years respectively to surpass their start up averages, while the A-League has taken only eight. Our competition then seems to be doing quite well as a start up league in terms of its own domestic market.

    Locally, and just for comparison, the NRL had an average attendance of 8k in 1985, took until 1993 to grow above 12.5k, peaked at 16.5k in 2005, and hasn’t really increased since.

    In fact those figures might be a bit high, given the recent suggestions that some clubs are over inflating attendance figures.

    Internationally, from 89 professional association football leagues, the A-League rated 25th in terms of average attendance with 10.8k at the end of the 2011/12 season.

    Assuming that most of the other, better established leagues will not have varied too much, the current average of 12.6k would bump that to a very respectable 17th.

    Of the sixteen above that, In Europe, England, Germany, Italy, Spain, France, Netherlands, Scotland, Turkey and Russia have leagues with higher attendance averages, the last three being between 13k and 14k.

    Where this figure falls down for Australia, is in the number of teams and games played.

    Most of those leagues play 34 or 38 games per team, compared with 27 in Australia, which gives them far larger total attendances per season and therefore more income.

    Being the major sport in most of those countries also means corporate and TV sponsorship is easier to come by. More money of course means better players and a stronger competition.

    Attendance wise then, the game in Australia does compare favourably with most of the rest of the world.

    I would further argue that while future growth in average attendances is desirable, the current level of 12.5k per game is more than acceptable and ranks us appropriately on the world scale.

    To improve our playing depth though, our future focus should be to increase the number of games played, either by playing each other four times, or increasing the number of teams.

    More games, hopefully means more money, and an improved standard both through more experience for players and coaches, and higher wages keeping more of our better talent in the competition.

    A stronger national competition of course will help to create a stronger Socceroos.

    A top 20 league with a top 20 national side, I think that those two things should be acceptable and attainable targets for football in this country.

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    The Crowd Says (25)

    • Roar Guru

      May 22nd 2013 @ 7:47am
      Cameron Kellett said | May 22nd 2013 @ 7:47am | ! Report

      “A top 20 league with a top 20 national side, I think that those two things should be acceptable and attainable targets for football in this country.”

      Yes, yes, yes. Why not?! I don’t think the A-league will.achieve massive increases this season unless 2-3 other clubs sign international marquees but I believe another season of growth is upon us. Memberships are a primary focus for all clubs because the money it alone produces can help significantly.

      The national side needs a lot of work and I honestly believe the time for foreign coaches is over but only if they’re the calibre of HO. Coaches like Guss are more than welcome but it has to be for four years with a focus on youth.

      20/20 is very achievable.

    • Roar Pro

      May 22nd 2013 @ 9:04am
      Football United said | May 22nd 2013 @ 9:04am | ! Report

      The survey became invalid when they put the MLS ahead of Holland. France, Argentina and Portugal. Why do we feel so insecure that we need to compare ourselves to others? I love the A-League and it’s crowds are actually good compared to some on top of us (we only look small compared to the inflated AFL crowds) but on-field it is not a top 20 league. Japan, Korea, MLS, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Belgium, Ukraine, Russia, Turkey, Switzerland and Austria are all certainly ahead of us, plus teams from the championship and 2. Bundesliga are obviously superior to A-League sides.

      • May 22nd 2013 @ 11:01am
        Working Class Rugger said | May 22nd 2013 @ 11:01am | ! Report

        Also, not to put a further dampener on the survey but it doesn’t take into account the TV ratings side of the equation. Many MLS games tend to rate poorly even by our standards. I know several US based Rugby blokes who are also avid Soccer fans and this has been discussed quite extensively. It is so bad that its at the point where NBS Sports who broadcast the League and have invested a great deal in delivery extra content for it in terms of pre and post game shows, weekly chat reviews etc are’t likely to look to not bid for the rights come the end of next season. ATM the front runner for the rights appears to be the US based affiliate of the Al-Jazeera network which is very much limited in terms subscription television in the US. While there is a large base in the US it is very fractured. The two largest groups are the ‘Eurosnobs’ who prefer the EPL, La Liga etc to the local product and the Mexicans who prefer to support the Mexican League over the MLS. Proof in point is that now many of the Mexican national team games and League matches are being broadcast in English and receive much higher ratings than the US team or MLS .

        The point is, attendance is only one of several factors that determine the ‘quality’ of the league. This would put both the MLS and A-League further down the rankings. However, unlike the MLS the A-League have the advantage of an ever increasingly growing support of an already sizable Soccer base which should see its ratings grow. At present the A-League looks to have a brighter future than the MLS.

        • May 22nd 2013 @ 11:11am
          Titus said | May 22nd 2013 @ 11:11am | ! Report

          I watch MLS games here and I know I’m not alone. There is no doubt that the MLS suffers from the same problem as the a-league in that there is more interest in various overseas leagues but there is interest and it is growing.

          I actually put the better games here ahead of the MLS, better atmosphere and intensity. The MLS can tend to seem bland and as though they are trying to cater for an American audience rather than a football audience.

          I know it will raise some ire but I think the first thing the MLS should do is change the name to Football and start competing with other sports.

          • May 22nd 2013 @ 11:25am
            Working Class Rugger said | May 22nd 2013 @ 11:25am | ! Report

            I’ve never been able to watch more than 15 minutes of a MLS game. The quality isn’t great and the market over there know’s it. They are trying by introducing marquee like we are here but in a market such as the US more people will know who Drew Brees is before they recognise Thierry Henry, Tim Cahill etc. The A-League this season (I only got Foxtel again this year) was much improved on what I had seen from past seasons and the marquee players have from all appearances bought into the League to a greater extent than previously which is great to see.

            The issue with calling it football will be raising the irk of not necessarily the NFL but its huge and fiercely loyal fan base. Football in America means one thing and one thing only in terms of marketing, sponsorship etc and that’s American Football. It needs to maintain its distinction.

            • May 22nd 2013 @ 2:50pm
              Tom said | May 22nd 2013 @ 2:50pm | ! Report

              I also find it funny that the FFA is talking about P/R, when we are lacking proper second Division. Orlando City SC plays in the third level, and can get 9,000 fans a game. The San Antonio Scorpions, who play in the rising NASL, the US second division, also receives the same amount of fans as Orlando. Saudi or Chinese money to come into the A-league, like MLS did today.

              • Roar Pro

                May 22nd 2013 @ 3:54pm
                Football United said | May 22nd 2013 @ 3:54pm | ! Report

                The second division will be likely be built after we have reached a ideal number of teams in the top division. The NPL is paving the way for teams that would be ready to make the next step in a national context, as well as possibly being joined by new start ups.

              • May 22nd 2013 @ 4:09pm
                Tom said | May 22nd 2013 @ 4:09pm | ! Report

                However over expansion can do more harm to the A-league then good. P/R can not be rushed, clubs will fold quickly.

              • Roar Guru

                May 22nd 2013 @ 7:43pm
                Cameron Kellett said | May 22nd 2013 @ 7:43pm | ! Report

                Agreed Tom, “patience is a virtue” needs to be the approach adopted and with a diligent and timely manner.

              • May 22nd 2013 @ 10:30pm
                Working Class Rugger said | May 22nd 2013 @ 10:30pm | ! Report

                My question is, why do we need P/R? It’s not how it has been traditionally done here. Mainly because we just don’t have the population base to do it. If the A-League want a league below it then a reserves league or something could be arranged.

        • May 22nd 2013 @ 3:49pm
          Tom said | May 22nd 2013 @ 3:49pm | ! Report

          TV ratings in MLS, has Little to do with the public not liking MLS, and more to do that at this stage of MLS, MLS is a regional league and not National. NHL has face this same problem, only now are they becoming a more National league. Regional ratings for MLS, is higher then the 300,000 plus views MLS currently receives, nationally. Also,with more Hispanic children growing up in the US, the more Americanized they become, and that includes watching MLS. Australia’s population is on the decline, while Americas population is rising, with one day Hispanics becoming the majority. The rising number of Hispanics on youth teams, and the rising number of Hispanics watching MLS, shows MLS future is higher then the A-league. The 20th team, New York City FC, will give MLS a team in the heart of New York, unlike the NJ base NYRB. A NY base team, increases ratings, and gives leverage to MLS heading into next year TV discussions. With this new leverage, NBC,Al-Jazeera, ESPN and others will bid for MLS. You also mention the marquee rule, however the A-league copied this from MLS. Russell Sargeant was even highered by the FFA, he is from MLS front offices. As for Eurosnobs, I think we have the same problem in Asutralia.

          • May 22nd 2013 @ 10:24pm
            Working Class Rugger said | May 22nd 2013 @ 10:24pm | ! Report

            Umm…Australia’s population has just cracked 23 million. It’s actually growing. Don’t know where you get your information from.

            • Roar Guru

              May 22nd 2013 @ 10:36pm
              peeeko said | May 22nd 2013 @ 10:36pm | ! Report

              +1 “australias population is on the decline?????”

      • May 22nd 2013 @ 1:56pm
        nickoldschool said | May 22nd 2013 @ 1:56pm | ! Report

        Am with you regarding the survey F.U. What a joke to put USA and Mexico above Portugal, France, Argentina or even Russia and Holland.

        In my mind ‘world soccer’ wanted to please the new world and its soccer fans. Pretty sure many Americans will be high fiving each other seeing their League is well in the top 10 in the world. Right.

        • May 22nd 2013 @ 2:51pm
          Tom said | May 22nd 2013 @ 2:51pm | ! Report

          The Mexican league is better then the Argentina league, just look at the Libertadores results, however MLS clubs are getting closer and closer to Liga MX.

          • May 22nd 2013 @ 3:40pm
            nickoldschool said | May 22nd 2013 @ 3:40pm | ! Report

            If my stats are correct, Argentine clubs have won 22 Copa libertadores, Mexico none.

            I have heard and read that the Mexican league was getting better every year but clubs like Boca juniors, independiente, estudiantes or River plate are just too good to ignore. I think the Mexican league needs a few more years to even match Argentina, at least in my eyes.

            • May 22nd 2013 @ 3:54pm
              Tom said | May 22nd 2013 @ 3:54pm | ! Report

              At the Moment, just looking at Toluca beating Boca in the group stage. Also with Tijuana beating Corinthains, and currently are in the finale eight. The Argentine League only has a few quality clubs, however in Mexico you have quality up and down the league.

              • May 22nd 2013 @ 4:13pm
                nickoldschool said | May 22nd 2013 @ 4:13pm | ! Report

                Hmmm, well I think we will disagree on that. I don’t rate a league over the results of one season. We had no EPL team in this years UCL QF but we had a French and Turkish team. Yet in my book the EPl is better than these 2 leagues. Same with Argentina over Mexico. No harm done, all good.

              • May 22nd 2013 @ 4:19pm
                Tom said | May 22nd 2013 @ 4:19pm | ! Report

                I watch the Argentina primera league and the Mexican league, which is why I say Liga MX is better. Liga MX games are so exciting to watch, Argentina league is not as exciting.

    • May 22nd 2013 @ 9:27am
      Fred said | May 22nd 2013 @ 9:27am | ! Report

      a top 20 finish is pretty good when you consider there are at least 200 national football leagues in the world
      that puts us in the top 10%
      as australian football fans, we should be proud

    • May 22nd 2013 @ 10:03am
      mahonjt said | May 22nd 2013 @ 10:03am | ! Report

      I amproud Fred – very proud. I also see a lt of upside for our league and the natioal football team. The next decade are the golden years. e shoud keep working ard, but remember to enjoy them.

    • May 22nd 2013 @ 10:29am
      striker said | May 22nd 2013 @ 10:29am | ! Report

      I reckon we can reach 14k this year, west sydney averaged 12k last year but they have the potential to average 16-17k next season based on how well they are doing, i can see most teams increasing the crowds after last years fantastic season,

    • May 22nd 2013 @ 12:32pm
      Towser said | May 22nd 2013 @ 12:32pm | ! Report

      Given that the A_league is closely following the attendance pattern of MLS/J League then we can eventually expect it to settle down into the 14-15000 average which was achieved in season three(14,600)
      Given the size of Australias population centre’s this is in line with what I expected from the beginning.
      Couple of centres are underacheiving in this respect in particular Perth,Adelaide ( need 10-15000)& Brisbane needs to lift to an average of 15-20000. & Melbourne & Sydney to 20,000 or just above. Victory is already there,but Heart will always struggle unless they change their image IMO to one more akin to” Bling United” rather than “Feeder to Overseas club United”.
      Sydney FC need to keep doing what there doing ie High profile marquee consistently & the Wanderers ,well the only thing that will hold them back is a poor quality of football on the park.
      Speaking of that(football quality) it is much improved from season one & IMO improved the fastest from season 6 to season 8,thought it was pretty stagnant to that point & this is in direct correlation to an increase in crowds since then.
      Long way mind in a technical sense to go yet, so lets not get too carried away there ,particularly regarding Australian players. Foreigners still dominate in that respect.
      Personally I discount crowds from seasons 1-6 because they were based on expectation rather than reality,thats why they spiralleds downwards from season 3 to season 6. Then thanks to Ange we started to see a glimmer of hope in the latter half of season 6,add a few marquees & fans are coming to see the quality of football on the improve.

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