If ‘quality football’ was the bait to lure the hidden – or as some would suggest “Euro-snob” – football fans of Australia, then surely the Asian Champions League would be the competition to do so?
Unfortunately, the ACL remains just as foreign to Australian football fans as trophies to Sydney FC in recent times.
For Australian football fans, talk usually resides around one of four topics: the A-League, English Premier League, Europeans Champions League and/or international football.
One topic which barely rates a mention, unless there is participation from an A-League team, is the Asian Champions League.
The ACL is a competition organised by the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), which consists of 46 Member Associations and one Associate Member Association (the Northern Mariana Islands).
The AFC is responsible for running football in Asia. Among its various responsibilities are:
• Regulating the game
• Drafting new laws to improve the sport
• Implementing the law
• Boosting grassroots and youth football
• Conducting major competitions
In the latest edition of the ACL, Chinese Super League side Guangzhou Evergrande – the team that knocked A-League’s Central Coast Mariners out of this very competition – have just broke China’s 23-year Asian title drought.
After a 2-2 draw in the first leg, away to K-League outfit FC Seoul, Evergrande travelled home to Tianhe Stadium and what many predicted would be theirs for the taking.
With star imports Muriqui, Elkeson, Dario Conca for Evergrande and Adilson and Molina for Seoul showing their class, the 55,847 in attendance were treated to a highly entertaining and fruitful football match.
With nothing to separate the two sides over two legs, Evergrande would be crowned champions based on away goals with a 1-1 draw.
With an improved showing from all teams involved throughout this ACL campaign, the AFC were pleased to announce the record viewing numbers that came with a great tournament.
Evergrande’s triumph on Saturday attracted the largest TV audience for a sporting event in China this year, with an average audience totalling over 30 million.
The AFC’s commercial partner World Sport Group said the 2013 Champions League achieved a combined average rating of 280 million, with a combined reach of 1.37 billion viewers.
“The final of the AFC Champions League is the pinnacle of club football in Asia and these record TV audience figures highlight the popularity of the competition and the desire for fans to watch in ever increasing numbers,” said Dato’ Alex Soosay, general secretary of the AFC.
“This year’s AFC Champions League…has been a huge success both on and off the field and has highlighted the impressive growth of the competition.
“With the draw for the 2014 AFC Champions League set to take place at the start of December, planning is already underway to ensure the competition continues to flourish next year and in the seasons beyond.”
If these numbers weren’t already food for thought as to the potential positives of participating in the ACL, then Pierre Justo, managing director of CSM Media Research KantarSport, added: “If we set aside the FIFA World Cup and football matches at the Olympics, the second leg of the AFC Champions League final attracted the highest football audience on TV in China for nearly a decade on CCTV-5 alone.”
“And again excluding the recent coverage of the Olympic Games in 2008 and 2012 and the 2010 FIFA World Cup which was in some cases aired at prime time in China, this year’s AFC Champions League final has clearly become one of the top sporting events on TV in China in last decade and is clearly a benchmark for the future.
“The figures for Guangdong Satellite are impressive as it is very rare for this particular channel to air a sporting event, while the total reach achieved by Guangdong Sports is two times higher than its previous best football audience of the year.”
Unfortunately for the Mariners and like many other A-League teams before them, with Adelaide and Melbourne the exception on one occasion respectively, interest remains minimal in both a television viewing and attendance sense.
Although the Mariners are not the best example to use when assessing the interest levels of the ACL, their last campaign, while being their most successful on-field, was very poor off-field.
Over the course of the four home matches they held, only 24,623 fans attended at an average of 6,155 per match.
Attendances aside could be forgiven if the viewing numbers were worth mentioning but due to the lack of ease in finding these numbers, it is clear it too wasn’t a highlight.
Surveying the web for coverage of the ACL final is also minimal if not barren from an Australian sporting media sense. The last article I can see on Fox Sports about the ACL is about the Mariners crashing out.
Thankfully SBS are reliable for reporting on all things football, but even in regards to the ACL, they provide no in-depth quality analysis or live coverage of these games.
Can you blame them though? Australian football fans would much rather vest their time into a 3am game between Barcelona and Real Madrid, but who can blame them either?
The quality factor would be an argument utilised to settle this debate but I watch all fours forms as mentioned earlier and keep a vested interest in the ACL and to be honest Evergrande versus Seoul was one of the more entertaining and quality filled matches I’ve seen for some time.
The importance of this competition cannot be understated, and as evidence would suggest, it is only going to get bigger.
The prospect of testing our ability against developing Asian nations with a populous to boot could do wonders for the A-League and Australian football.
But if football is to become number one, which I don’t doubt for one second, then ensuring Australian football fans of all walks are educated about Asian football and the ACL is paramount.
This is just another cog in the wheel that requires much attention to ensure viability and sustainability for our A-League clubs and Football Federation Australia.