The classic A-League finale has thrust football into the mainstream

Stuart Thomas Columnist

By Stuart Thomas, Stuart Thomas is a Roar Expert

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163 Have your say

    Attempting to write this piece without a goofy smile – as worn by all Sydney FC fans in the aftermath of the A-League grand final – will be tricky.

    While easy to romanticise the victory when your team is fortunate enough to be on the right side of the scoring ledger, sometimes it is worth looking at the broader picture rather than simply cheerleading your own mob.

    Sunday night reminded me of the larger stakes in play for Australian football.

    Aside from the intensity of the contest, the commitment of the players and the sheer drama of the extra time period and penalty shoot-out, something else was taking place.

    Something very special, powerful and worth celebrating, which was even more worthy than the two hours of drama that played out on the pitch.

    Despite some criticism of the coverage and interest being flat in the week leading up to the game, the anticipation was fever pitch throughout Sydney.

    Archie Thompson spoke glowingly at a function he attended, citing rising levels of enthusiasm and excitement. The pubs, bars and clubs were well patronised on Sunday afternoon and to top it all off, Sydney turned on a wonderful day weather wise.

    It was great to hear players from both squads interviewed on various radio programs through the week and the grabs from both coaches were also of top quality, as they always are when the grumpy smurf and the Victory mentor face off.

    As the A-League grapples with the reality that there is a core group of supporters across all clubs that have been at the coalface since day one and that attracting new people to the game is the secret to real growth, it is contests such as the one we saw on Sunday that have the potential to do just that.

    By late Sunday night, I had contact with three people who all watched the latter stages of the game and were glued to the action as the drama unfolded. They were not football fans at all, but still genuinely interested in who would win the game.

    Sydney FC Football A-League Grand Final 2017

    If they were to merely flick over to the television coverage to check the score before returning to their previous viewing choice, that would be a success for football in Australia.

    If they had attached themselves more to one side than the other, that is even more pleasing, as emotional engagement, particularly in traditional matches such as the ‘Big Blue’, is key to broadening the supporter base.

    What made me smile even more broadly however was the fact that these three people flicked over and were glued, gripped and intrigued by what they saw. They used words and phrases like tension, drama, penalty and toilet seat.

    Sure, they are people whose passionate sporting allegiances lay in other codes or contests yet they were intrigued. In short, Australian football turned them on.

    I did my bit and suggested they come to a game with me next season. All three seemed genuinely keen.

    Two of them stand to be great supporters of the A-League as they seem pretty keen on the boys in blue from Moore Park Road, the other shocked me when she expressed a liking for the Newcastle Jets. She is a ‘Coastie’, I suppose.

    As I sat on the lounge late at night, trying to rest my vocal chords that had been stretched to their extremes at the time of Rhyan Grant’s goal and Milos Ninkovic’s penalty, I wondered, ‘Did we just get noticed?’

    The answer was clear – bloody oath we did. Just like Collingwood and Essendon get noticed on Anzac Day with all the history and commemoration that takes place. Just like the NRL does around State of Origin time and the best three games of rugby league in the world takes place.

    Just like the Rugby World Cup garnered before the recent apathy and disinterest that has been adopted by many, sick of the rubbish trotted out by the ARU and its failure to address structural problems.

    The last time I can remember such attention and interest in football was John Aloisi’s penalty and our successful qualification for the 2006 World Cup in Germany. Some got a little too excited, predicting an explosion of growth in the A-League. This was never going to happen, it is a slow and painstaking task.

    Where the explosion has taken place is in participation rates. With women’s football exceeding netball in 2015 and the continued growth of junior boys’ involvement, we all know football is hitting some dizzy heights, with recent numbers confirming the anecdotal.

    Parlaying those numbers to future A-League expansion, growth and broadening needs contests such as the one we saw on Sunday. And the people who were somewhat interested enough to tune in, need to be entertained.

    We’ve all heard it before, sport as the entertainment business. We all know it is true. At the proverbial end of the day, people will spend their time and hard earned where they receive something in return. Product is everything.

    Sydney FC A-League 2017 Grand Final

    On Sunday night, the product was right. It lured people in who may have never been lured in before. The regulars were there, watching live, following online or listening in and they are our bread and butter. However, those casual fans who were engrossed by our grand final and hung around enthralled by the action, are the future for football.

    The younger they are the better and if they bring a friend or two that’s great.

    There will be some who say things were flat in Brisbane or that Perth and Adelaide didn’t embrace the game as they may have. They will cite poor media, lack of interest and a historical dislike for the two grand finalists, the bullies that they are. This is the case in other codes as well, when cities lack representation in big finals. It’s just the lay of the land.

    However, Australian football was on show Sunday night. Big time.

    I am happy my team won but my stronger emotion is one of pride. Pride that the players from both squads were in the spotlight through the week and that casual sports fans were interested and engrossed in the contest enough to view, discuss and enjoy it.

    But most of all, I was so proud that we were noticed.

    Stuart Thomas
    Stuart Thomas

    Stuart Thomas is a sports writer and educator who made the jump from Roar Guru to Expert in 2017. An ex-trainee professional golfer, his sporting passions are broad with particular interests in football, AFL and rugby league. His love of sport is only matched by his passion for gardening and self-sustainability. Follow him on Twitter @stuartthomas72.

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    The Crowd Says (163)

    • May 9th 2017 @ 5:12am
      jeff dustby said | May 9th 2017 @ 5:12am | ! Report

      it was already big time. football arrived on the stage over a decade ago.

      • May 9th 2017 @ 11:33am
        matth said | May 9th 2017 @ 11:33am | ! Report

        Agreed, was about to type the same thing. There is a difference between being in the mainstream and being number 1. Football is not necessarily number 1 but it is firmly in the mainstream.

        • Columnist

          May 9th 2017 @ 5:17pm
          Stuart Thomas said | May 9th 2017 @ 5:17pm | ! Report

          Not my headline men, personally don’t like the word mainstream at times. I was more interested in the attention the game got.

          • May 10th 2017 @ 3:38am
            Jeff Dustby said | May 10th 2017 @ 3:38am | ! Report

            And it was plenty, good article

    • May 9th 2017 @ 6:37am
      Agent11 said | May 9th 2017 @ 6:37am | ! Report

      Is a grand final really necessary in football? Sydney were by far the best team of the season it would have been hugely dispiriting if they had lost in a penalty shoot out.

      • May 9th 2017 @ 6:46am
        punter said | May 9th 2017 @ 6:46am | ! Report

        Finals are here to stay, however, the premiership should never have the word minor in front of it.

        • Columnist

          May 9th 2017 @ 9:51am
          Stuart Thomas said | May 9th 2017 @ 9:51am | ! Report

          Agreed. What a year Punter. Did it easy all year except for the GF. I’ll never forget Arnold pumping himself up. Their self belief came through in the end.

          Very proud of them and Victory came to play. Ninkovic copped a bit too much for my liking, hate to see the best targeted like that, but that is the game I guess.

          • May 9th 2017 @ 12:27pm
            punter said | May 9th 2017 @ 12:27pm | ! Report

            What a great night Stuart, the crowd, both set of fans, were pumping all game till end of penalty shootout.

            Great great fun.

      • May 9th 2017 @ 8:52am
        Waz said | May 9th 2017 @ 8:52am | ! Report

        When the ground sells out and 640,000 people tune in and Fox coverage peaks at over 500,000 you’ve got a pretty good idea it’s very, very popular. It would have been criminal if SFC had lost however, all the great sides are good enough to do the double. As were SFC on Sunday.

        • Columnist

          May 9th 2017 @ 9:53am
          Stuart Thomas said | May 9th 2017 @ 9:53am | ! Report

          Water cooler talk over the last few days has alerted me to the fact that many people had small gatherings to watch the game. Seven people at one party, thirteen people at mine. Might have been closer to a million than 500,000 at that moment.

          Well done to both teams, Foxtel and the game.

          • May 10th 2017 @ 6:59am
            Waz said | May 10th 2017 @ 6:59am | ! Report

            Stuart, the was the same in Brissie too. Many Roar fans were coordinating pub gatherings and several had home parties.

      • Columnist

        May 9th 2017 @ 9:48am
        Stuart Thomas said | May 9th 2017 @ 9:48am | ! Report

        True, perhaps a two legged Grand Final?

    • Roar Rookie

      May 9th 2017 @ 6:39am
      Stevo said | May 9th 2017 @ 6:39am | ! Report

      Only a Grand Final can give you the kind of season ending drama consistently year in, year out. Ending the season after 27 rounds without a finals series would be a disaster. Agree with you that Sunday night’s match did get people into the game and helped further cement the HAL and the GF as part of the Australian sporting landscape.

      • May 9th 2017 @ 8:31am
        AGO74 said | May 9th 2017 @ 8:31am | ! Report

        Yes the GF has to stay – I think Sydney fcs utter dominance this year contributed towards some general apathy in the last 9-10 rounds of the comp. I don’t see that as a bad thing in the long term though as I think Sydney’s dominance will inspire the competition to go to the next level in a similar way to what Brisbane roars achievements did 5-6 years ago.

      • Columnist

        May 9th 2017 @ 9:55am
        Stuart Thomas said | May 9th 2017 @ 9:55am | ! Report

        Amazing how talk through the week was about a flat week in the leadup, people complaining about no coverage. Well done to Sydney and Melbourne for embracing the game. Most watched A-League game ever I heard this morning. Pretty good if it was a flat leadup!

        • May 9th 2017 @ 11:35am
          matth said | May 9th 2017 @ 11:35am | ! Report

          It was odds on to be most watched given the participants this year. Adelaide vs. Central Coast would not have done it. So it was a grand final that the FFA would definitely have wanted.

    • May 9th 2017 @ 7:44am
      Onside said | May 9th 2017 @ 7:44am | ! Report

      There is a far broader recognition of football that is generally acknowledged.

      Wether this turns into bums on seats support on match day is another matter.

      In SE QLD , school kids are exposed to, football, AFL, touch, union & league.

      Including nippers ,swimming ,athletics ; all part of a childs sporting education .

      Some young kids play football Saturday and union on Sunday. Muti tasking.

      The seed for all sports is sown. As they get older, children pick their favourite .

      Parents are also exposed to football as they take kids to training and matches.

      As children mature their passing knowledge of all football codes allows them to
      enjoy all the big games .

      Most kids spend part of their childhood kicking a round ball in a swarm of kids.

      As the A League matures , these, ‘once a little tacker’, will likely revisit the game.

      The seeds have been sown.

      • May 9th 2017 @ 7:57am
        punter said | May 9th 2017 @ 7:57am | ! Report

        Very well put Onside.

        The young-uns are the future, hence FTA is a must for the under 12s.

        • Columnist

          May 9th 2017 @ 9:58am
          Stuart Thomas said | May 9th 2017 @ 9:58am | ! Report

          The numbers tell us that the kids want to play, just need to connect with their local teams more and resist the temptation to think of the A-League as a B grade competition. More kids talking about Sydney FC here in Sydney this year than ever before. Very pleasing.

          • May 9th 2017 @ 11:10am
            mattq said | May 9th 2017 @ 11:10am | ! Report

            I’ve said it before and i’ll say it again, artificially inflating the overall level of A-League teams in EA FIFA sports would go a long way to bringing in the kiddies. They don’t want to play with 2 star teams when Barca and Chelsea are available.

            • Roar Guru

              May 9th 2017 @ 11:54am
              Magnus M. Østergaard said | May 9th 2017 @ 11:54am | ! Report

              So would adding fictional pro/rel

            • May 9th 2017 @ 11:57am
              AGO74 said | May 9th 2017 @ 11:57am | ! Report

              I don’t play computer games but I understand the point you are making.. The vast majority of young kids exposure to football beyond saturday juniors is via EA Sports not watching games on Foxtel etc.

              • May 9th 2017 @ 12:01pm
                mattq said | May 9th 2017 @ 12:01pm | ! Report

                it defeats the purpose of the “reality” it aims for but at the end of the day it’s a video game. If FAs could lobby for artificially high team ratings in their own market then really it wouldn’t impact the game in anyway. pretty sure no one outside of the Australian market is playing with A-League teams so they would be unaware of the inflated ratings. It makes sense and is something our FFA should consider. We already get a Socceroo on the cover, why not promote the A-League via improved club ratings in our market only?

    • May 9th 2017 @ 7:57am
      Fadida said | May 9th 2017 @ 7:57am | ! Report

      My question is, aside from your 3 friends, where is the evidence we were”noticed”?

      I hate to be the one to play Devil’s Advocate but unless TV ratings were significantly better than throughout the league there is no evidence anyone new noticed.

      Watching the game there seemed to be a sea of sky blue in the crowd. Where were these extra 20k+ SFC fans during the season? One of the reasons the game was so compelling was that there was a big crowd and great atmosphere. These factors lift the intensity of the players, making a better spectacle, which in turn lifts the crowd and the quality of the game. Thus begins positive feedback loop

      • May 9th 2017 @ 9:29am
        AGO74 said | May 9th 2017 @ 9:29am | ! Report

        I too was really impressed by the wall of sky blue merchandise at the ground. Re the 20k, its possible a large number of them are people like me. I’m a fan and GA season ticket holder – but I can only get to about 5 games a season on average. I would like to go to more but for a variety of reasons I just can’t (e.g. I was unable to go to either of the big blues that Sydney hosted during regular season). I think the ‘theatre-goers’ as some like to call them were very much in the minority on sunday evening and that the vast majority of people there are supporters of Sydney FC but unfortunately the reality of Sydney is you will not get people being able to go week in/week out and otherwise only go to perhaps 2-3 regular season games each year.

        As for what can be done about it, it seemed to me that Sydney FC had a large amount of games at awkward timeslots (thursday/friday nights) this year compared to others – as well as the old 7.50pm timeslot which is not family friendly for those with young kids. If they could bring that 7.50pm timeslot back to 7pm or even 7.15 I’m sure they will get bigger attendances (I can’t imagine the ratings would be materially different between 7 & 7.50pm)

        • Columnist

          May 9th 2017 @ 10:03am
          Stuart Thomas said | May 9th 2017 @ 10:03am | ! Report

          Completely agree. The late slots keep two kids away from FC games. Mine. Can’t have them getting home at 11.00pm, which is pretty much what happens when I travel into the city. If we acknowledge the kids are the future, seems logical doesn’t it.

      • May 9th 2017 @ 9:46am
        Nemesis said | May 9th 2017 @ 9:46am | ! Report

        “unless TV ratings were significantly better than throughout the league ”

        The PayTV ratings for the A-League Grand Final were enormous.

        The 30 mins of Extra Time and Shootout pulled an average of 460,000 viewers on Foxtel. This is up there with the biggest ratings for NRL & AFL on Foxtel. The peak viewing for the HAL GF was over 1/2 million … on PayTV!!

        In fact, in 2016, only 2 AFL matches (the Preliminary Finals) and one NRL match pulled more viewers on Foxtel than Extra Time & Penalties on Sunday.

        The average ALeague ratings during the H&A season were 67,000 on Foxtel.

        • May 9th 2017 @ 10:00am
          Onside said | May 9th 2017 @ 10:00am | ! Report

          Thanks for the stats.
          Meat on the bones.

        • Columnist

          May 9th 2017 @ 10:07am
          Stuart Thomas said | May 9th 2017 @ 10:07am | ! Report

          Coverage was terrific as well. Now if we could just get Foxtel to offer special A-League subscriptions for next year. An inexpensive package for followers of the most played game in the country. You get a basic package, with the football channels such as bein 1,2,3 and the Premier League Channels as well as all the A-League matches.

          I am not a media marketing man, but strike while the iron is hot.

          Right now, this might sell.

          • May 9th 2017 @ 10:26am
            Nemesis said | May 9th 2017 @ 10:26am | ! Report

            Stuart, I echo your view on Foxtel needing to provide better product offerings.

            Sadly, based on flat & extremely low PayTV penetration in Australia, it seems Foxtel doesn’t want to attract new customers and increase total revenue. They’d rather maintain high margins on small number of existing customers than grow their customer base and lower their margin.

            Given PayTV broadcasting would have significantly higher % of Fixed Costs compared to Variable, I find this to be a very strange business model.

            But, Foxtel has been a monopoly in the PayTV delivery market in Australia for 20 years so they won’t change now.

            Our only hope is for an alternative delivery model of LiveStreaming to deliver better prices for customers.

            • May 9th 2017 @ 11:18am
              mattq said | May 9th 2017 @ 11:18am | ! Report

              I’ve asked Foxtel about this before. The message their staff are told to give is that advertising on the entertainment channels pays for the sports rights/coverage. It definitely seems a strange position. Take myself for example. I pay for the barebones+HD and will likely dump Foxtel in the off season post the next WCQ. Now if I had a cheaper package I’d keep it all year. I might be paying for channels which advertisers pay and the subsequent money is used to fund sports but I never watch those channels. there advertising is completely wasted on me. I’m sure there are a lot like me out there…?

              • May 9th 2017 @ 2:22pm
                Fadida said | May 9th 2017 @ 2:22pm | ! Report

                That’s me too Matt

          • Roar Guru

            May 9th 2017 @ 10:38am
            Magnus M. Østergaard said | May 9th 2017 @ 10:38am | ! Report

            As a curious observer, what would you consider an inexpensive package?

            • May 9th 2017 @ 11:35pm
              R King said | May 9th 2017 @ 11:35pm | ! Report

              we pay $150.00/mth for a premium package, plus now i also pay for optus to watch the EPL [which is an outstanding coverage] If Fox put together a basic ‘football’ package, HAL, EFL and the BeIn stations for around $50.00/mth that would be a BIG seller IMO.

            • May 10th 2017 @ 1:30am
              Glen said | May 10th 2017 @ 1:30am | ! Report

              We pay $70 a month for all the channels except movies. They wanted to charge me an extra $20 for HD but I declined. If the NRL gets a streaming service on Apple TV I would likely ditch foxtel and just wear not being able to watch other sports I enjoy like A League. Although my kids like all the kids channels. .

          • May 9th 2017 @ 11:38am
            matth said | May 9th 2017 @ 11:38am | ! Report

            Live sport is really all Foxtel has to combat the Netflix’s of this world, so they are not going to give it away (whatever code) but will keep it in their premium packages. Otherwise not enough people would subscribe to their other channels.

          • May 9th 2017 @ 2:21pm
            Fadida said | May 9th 2017 @ 2:21pm | ! Report

            I’d kill for an A- league only package. I won’t even use Fox again until the next season starts

            • Columnist

              May 9th 2017 @ 5:21pm
              Stuart Thomas said | May 9th 2017 @ 5:21pm | ! Report

              It would just make sense. But then again, sense for the consumer is different to sense for the corporate. Thinking long term and outside the idea of margin is not really in the interests of most businesses.

        • May 9th 2017 @ 10:31am
          Caltex & SBS support Australian Football said | May 9th 2017 @ 10:31am | ! Report

          Nemesis – Just goes to show you that, S.Lowy and Gallop between them screwed up, to negotiate the right FOX deal. I felt disappointed when S.Lowy refuted the $80m Gallop was chasing, by releasing a press release to say $80 was not achievable. We need change at the top with more positive and aggressive leadership for Australian Football.

          • May 10th 2017 @ 3:42am
            Jeff Dustby said | May 10th 2017 @ 3:42am | ! Report

            it was not and is not achievable

        • May 9th 2017 @ 2:25pm
          Fadida said | May 9th 2017 @ 2:25pm | ! Report

          Wow, they are great ratings. The lack of FTA surely prevents us “cutting through” into the mainstream though?

          What those ratings do show is that Australians love a Grand Final. The ratings surely put to an end the question of the place of a finals series?

          • May 9th 2017 @ 2:42pm
            Nemesis said | May 9th 2017 @ 2:42pm | ! Report

            Yes, great ratings on PayTV for the Grand Final, but let’s not over-inflate the value of 1 match to the TV rights.

            Foxtel needs subscribers. 1 match that rates high is nice; but 1 match alone doesn’t drive even 1 new subscriber. No sensible person pays $800-$1000 per year for Foxtel to watch just 1 match each year.

            And, let’s also remember each weekend for 7 months the normal H&A season of ALeague pulls in an average of 330k viewers on Foxtel.

            So, yes, 460k viewing ALeague on Foxtel this week end is very good.
            But, we also get an average of 330k viewing ALeague on Foxtel for 27 weeks every year.

      • Roar Rookie

        May 9th 2017 @ 9:57am
        c said | May 9th 2017 @ 9:57am | ! Report

        fadida fair question and how long will we be ”noticed” for

      • Columnist

        May 9th 2017 @ 10:01am
        Stuart Thomas said | May 9th 2017 @ 10:01am | ! Report

        Fair point Fadida. The numbers coming out seem to be suggesting that more people than ever took an interest and viewed or checked in on the game. Very pleasing figures, assuming Foxtel are happy. Good return on the 40 mil investment I reckon. Now to take the next step. Need to get the Socceroos through and play really well in these mid year games.

        And then…….dare I say it……..find a great replacement for Ange.

        • May 9th 2017 @ 2:27pm
          Fadida said | May 9th 2017 @ 2:27pm | ! Report

          Great figures Stuart. Now the problem is how to get those without Fox, ie the mainstream majority, to watch and attend…

    • May 9th 2017 @ 8:20am
      Square Nostrils said | May 9th 2017 @ 8:20am | ! Report


      Football in Australia has always had moments where its been thrust into the mainstream.
      Back in the days of the “Big Match”, early Seventies with the late Brian Moore at the helm there was often water cooler talk about football, albeit English.
      The visit of New York Cosmos, Alois’s penalty, many World cup moments have all generated interest and talking points outside the die hard football fraternity.
      The secret to long term success is not one of occassions of increased interest, but an interest on an every day basis, whereby like traditional football countries, the average joe is aware of the game without being conscious of it.
      In fact the average Joe is aware of the game as a global giant, hence playing numbers ever increase.
      However its the outside(Australia) influence that is still the major player in this.
      Key is and always will be, the closer football in Australia can get to emulating the skill , passion and intensity of overseas football, the greater the chance of the “Main game” being at home (Football wise)in the minds of Australians.
      Dont be fooled by the appearance of a “Golden Peacock” every now and then, look for the crow, always omnipresent and making a noise you cant ignore.

      • Columnist

        May 9th 2017 @ 10:09am
        Stuart Thomas said | May 9th 2017 @ 10:09am | ! Report

        Square, ‘thrust into the mainstream’ not my phrase. I see where eds were going with it. I originally titled the piece….’That, my friends, was Australian Football’. A little less argumentative I guess.

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