Sunday’s twilight grand final between Melbourne City and Sydney FC pits two teams with historically stark differences in their levels of success up against each other.
The A-League has learned the hard way that producing attractive and entertaining football does not always get people through the gates.
Last season’s average attendance was the lowest since the 2011-12 season, manifesting the growing fatigue among fans with the league’s stagnation.
While the derbies in Sydney and Melbourne during the opening rounds produced a combined attendance of over 105,000, the excitement had well and truly diminished by the time everyone had played each other twice.
One may argue that maintaining such fan excitement under the current format remains a task too arduous – enter the guest marquee.
The Guest Player is a concept the FFA have continued to endorse since the league’s inception, allowing the league to benefit from a marketing perspective while simultaneously improving the leagues quality and professionalism.
Currently A-League clubs are permitted to spend an unlimited amount on a Guest Player who is restricted to a maximum of playing 14 matches.
The FFA should be doing be its utmost to encourage clubs to embrace the guest player concept as well as promoting the Australian lifestyle on offer as a means of luring guest players for a suitable duration of time.
The league’s continuation over the December/January period potentially acts as a significant drawcard to big name players, particularly those en route to leagues such as the MLS or China who have their off-season during this time.
Given that these leagues have deeper pockets and will continue to sway big name stars, the newly implemented full season guest spot is almost out of the question. The more viable alternative is for the FFA to encourage a eight to 14 guest match appearance.
Clubs acquiring the services of a guest marquee is nothing new. The recruitment of David Villa and Romario remains fresh in the minds of fans, however neither had the impact the FFA would have hoped for due to only playing four matches each.
The recruitment of a guest marquee, particularly during the January window, the overall interest in football can be reinvigorated with fans being incentivised to tune in more frequently as well as attending matches.
Imagine the pandemonium should Steven Gerrard or Frank Lampard come Down Under for ten matches? Not only would this allow the FFA to go all guns blazing with marketing schemes but it also exposes home grown talent to players of a higher calibre, amplifying their improvement and ultimately bridging the gap between the A-League and the international leagues.
In addition, the overall excitement in the league can be prolonged into the weeks where interest begins to dwindle.
The A-League has succeeded in the past in attracting quality foreign players in their prime who have had a significant impact in the competition.
So why should clubs recruit stars well past their prime when they can pluck a Besart Berisha, Thomas Broich or a Marc Janko?
The answer lies in the guest marquee’s ability to draw the interest of the masses and the mainstream media.
The foreign players inserted into the league have had a greater impact than any guest player ever will, but ultimately fail in drawing the interest of football fans who may not have an invested interest in the A-League.
This concept in the contemporary A-League can only work should the players stay for a prolonged period of at least eight matches, allowing the league the opportunity to attract and maintain the interest of fans.
The financial stability of the clubs needs to also be accounted for. While the recruitment of a guest player can increase attendances, it needs to ensure that it equally has a positive effect on team performances. Albeit a guest marquee could provide something new to clubs deprived of success for several years, helping them take the required steps to break the glass ceiling.
We have never had a shortage of entertaining football in Australia and given the vast improvement since the A-League’s inception it is quite underwhelming to see a stagnation in attendances.
Thus, the recruitment of guest marquees could prolong the increased attendances witnessed during the beginning of the season.
These higher calibre players could hence be a catalyst in exposing the A-League to a new generation of fans who may just decide to stick around.