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Where is the romance in an NPL 'home' semi-final?

Is it time to introduce standing seats in Melbourne at AAMI Park? (AAP Image/David Crosling)
Roar Guru
20th October, 2015
27

Ahead of the first 2015 FFA Cup semi-final between Perth Glory and Melbourne City on Wednesday, it has been interesting to observe the game of musical chairs in deciding the venue for Hume City’s ‘home’ tie against A-League juggernaut Melbourne Victory.

The reasons for the move from Hume’s ABD Stadium were quite obvious, the small Broadmeadows-based suburban ground doesn’t have the capacity to even come close to catering for Victory’s core fan-base – which just ticked over 26,049 members at the time of writing – let alone cater for neutral event goers.

As Michael Lynch observed shortly after the draw, Hume City then naturally went about exploring their options to cash in on “the biggest game in their history”.

This exploration of options initially led to the cavernous Etihad Stadium of all places being unilaterally announced as the venue by Hume City.

The fact that the official FFA Cup website maintained the TBC or ‘to be confirmed’ abbreviation next to the ‘venue’ section of the match schedule told the story that this wasn’t a done deal.

And so it wasn’t a huge shock that the common sense option of AAMI Park was eventually the announced venue for the fixture.

Common sense in terms of size of course. The commercial return that may be gleaned from hosting the venue at AAMI Park may be another matter however, given the leasing costs for Etihad presumably represented a much better deal financially.

This episode raises some questions about what the fraternity wants from the fledgeling competition, and represents some natural teething issues that require addressing.

For example, the FFA have (justifiably in my opinion) operated an engineered draw geared to ensure a ‘grassroots’, or more likely a semi-professional team would get a home tie at the semi-final stage to ensure an element of romance.

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This worked quite excellently in the inaugural version of the competition when Victorian side Bentleigh Greens managed to make a dream run and gain a home semi-final tie against Perth Glory. They sold-out their suburban ground with an attendance of 4000.

While I don’t agree with Mike Cockerill much of the time, he has written a good article outlining how the need for a change of fixture venue has eroded the romance of the fixture and defeated much of the purpose.

Considering the consequences of the tie at AAMI Park, the ticket prices are relatively expensive.

Unlike the case when Melbourne Victory hosted Adelaide United at AAMI Park, Victory members won’t be able to get a discount by applying their barcodes when purchasing tickets.

Both of these factors, when combined with the fact the match is midweek, may prove to be a substantial negative influence on the turnout. To the point where any financial windfall on its way to Hume may be significantly hampered once leasing costs are taken into account.

While more people will have the opportunity to see the tie, if the financial gain ends up being lower than a lower ticket price sellout at the rent neutral ABD system it will naturally raise questions.

In the case of this game specifically, the attendance for the tie may be saved by the fact that the match scheduled for October 28 sits perfectly in between a gap in Melbourne Victory’s home fixtures on the October 17 and November 2.

Secondly, the fact that unlike the earlier rounds the match is being played during the competitive A-League season, there is a reasonable chance the fixture will be held in higher regard than a glorified pre-season friendly and so will hold higher appeal.

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Looking ahead though, there is a risk of a loss making disaster on the horizon and so a precedent needs to be set whereby the dilemma of large A-League fan-bases is resolved.

The solution lies in adopting the principle of the ‘neutral’ venue at semi-final stage for such fixtures, as is often used in the English FA Cup for example.

This is less of a problem for Western Sydney given the plethora of rectangular suburban stadiums littered around Sydney that are used to host NRL games.

Victory represents a bit more of a dilemma, however a memorandum of understanding whereby such fixtures will be moved to one of either Lakeside Stadium in Melbourne south, or Olympic Village in Melbourne’s north or even Somers Street, the home ground of Melbourne Knights, should be established.

These grounds can adequately cater for demand while at the same time they meet the minimum standards for a professional team.

While not large enough to accommodate the membership base in its entirety, they are large enough to accommodate a sizeable degree of particularly keen fans willing to snap up tickets quickly.

Indeed the sense of scarcity can be useful in bringing a sense of value to the fixture.

The negligible leasing costs involved means both ticket prices can be lower and useful trickle down profit still guaranteed. The romance of a swelled suburban grassroots venue with all the iconography that comes with it could therefore still be maintained.

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