Our national domestic league is potentially a wonderful product, however it is clearly at a cross roads right now.
We must ensure whoever is behind the wheel chooses the right direction otherwise Australian football could end up going backwards into a pit of despair.
Total attendance for the first 10 rounds of the season is down by 12 per cent compared to the same time last year. That is 92,167 fewer fans who have come through the gates.
The average crowd for the league is down to 11,902 from 13,507 in 2016/17. Pay TV viewers are down by 762,000 with free to air television audiences down 18 per cent despite Channel One taking over the coverage this year which includes Saturday night games (and derby football).
Last week’s Sydney derby saw 36,000 turn up, which was 40 per cent down on the season opener last year when over 60,000 fans came. What was most concerning was that a mere 55,000 tuned into One HD to watch the A-League’s marquee match up.
The lack of expansion, affordable tickets, VAR issues, quality on the pitch and too many meaningless games means the league has gone stale and turned off a large number of fans.
Football in this country is fickle at best, we cannot afford to alienate the passionate ones as if they don’t stay what hope do we have of attracting new fans.
At the moment there are only ten teams and six can make the finals, meaning you can lose a few games in a row but still be in with a shot of the finals.
There is no relegation battle to worry about so teams can afford to drop games rendering many games meaningless and boring.
The A-League needs consequence so maybe bringing in a second tier might make games between lower ranked clubs more meaningful and exciting.
Having so few teams also means the same teams play each other over and over again which becomes boring and predictable.
While derby games are always exciting, who wants to see Central Coast play Wellington three times a year or Sydney FC play Newcastle, unless you’re a fan of that particular club?
Having fourteen teams means each team can play each other twice and we can have 26 rounds. The top six to eight teams can fight it out for the finals whereas the bottom five or six can fight it out to avoid relegation.
Whilst we need geographical diversity, geography alone shouldn’t determine who is in the league. Wellington are a team that offers no value to the Australian game, with all due respect to the loyal Wellington fans.
Worse still there doesn’t seem to be any potential to fix this either. The A-League needs to ensure it doesn’t bring in a team just to satisfy the need to tick itself off on the map.
We need to bring in teams from markets that can sustain and afford a team. Derby football is great but there is no way Adelaide or Perth can handle another team at the moment.
Brisbane and Sydney most certainly can and we could do with another team in these regions. More derby football in Qld and NSW would go a long way to boosting the A-League product.
Southern Sydney have rich Chinese owners who are willing to build a stadium out of their own pocket.
They are trying to build a team in a market with over 40,000 registered players. The games would be beamed via TV into the 1.6 billion populated country.
Adding four more derbies to the A-League fixture list would go a long way to boosting numbers in terms of crowds and most importantly TV figures.
Making the game affordable is also important. Money is tight these days with mortgages, rent, school fees and groceries rightly taking priority.
Cheap tickets wont necessarily boost crowds significantly although it helps. Hence why clubs charge the prices they do hoping to cash in on those loyal and dedicated fans.
It has been pleasing to see clubs bring in “kids get in free” rounds to boost the number of families in attendance.
Clubs are not charities though and at the end of the day they dont want to lower the value of the memberships and tickets purchased by the loyal fans. Who wants to spend $300 on a membership when they see someone else getting free or cheaper tickets? Clubs understand the need to be smart with this.
You cant afford to alienate the paying fans by giving away too many freebies. The Wanderers have the right idea with tickets to games giving free public transport access as well as 10 per cent discount on food and merchandise. A healthy balance and increasing value for money.
The VAR has caused a lot of angst recently which has been totally unfair on the referees who do an amazing job.
The VAR has left referees with the winless task of applying the letter of the law meaning decisions on the field which show common sense and leniency being changed to apply the law as it stands.
Hence why we have seen yellow cards being changed to red and so on.
The VAR should have its scope reduced to deciding on goals, penalties, mistaken identity and “off the ball” incidents.
If a referee sees a foul and decides on a sanction or no sanction, that should stand. This takes away a lot of the issues although we will still have coaches arguing a player should or should not have been sent off.
At least if its outside the VAR’s hands we wont have bigger blow ups because someone did have a chance to view it.
The lack of star quality can only be addressed by having marquee players who are not passed their best and who offer speed and skill.
We have had some great marquee signings in Shinji Ono and Alessandro Del Pierro but they are few and far between.
The A-League needs to bring in speed and skill so why not look at Asia? We dont want a league that is purely about physical contests.
Asian players are technically brilliant and the way they dance around the pitch is brilliant to watch.
The A league is stale, we need to do things that make it better so we can ultimately reach our potential. A star wars themed round was innovative if not inspiring. But let’s do something that lets football do the talking!