Football in Australia is unique.
The atmosphere surrounding it has always been a culmination of cultures and ethnicities who make the game exclusively Australian.
Epitomised by the active support groups whose chants derive of global and home-grown influence, the A-League should be the point of difference in Australian sport.
One belonging to the people.
Football and its fans have always seen themselves as outsiders and battlers in Australian sport, making their disdain firmly known and providing the game with an identity fuelled by a profound ardour.
The A-League’s stagnation has been noted but is not only exacerbated by a lack of expansion.
But a lack of identity.
It didn’t take long for the A-League to set its mark on Australian sport. The creativity and exuberance of active supporters captivated fans whose loyalty for these newly founded clubs rivalled those established for nearly a century.
For a brief period, the A-League provided an alternative landscape where the action was three dimensional, yet little was done to really embrace this by the clubs and FFA.
The most notable case saw the Melbourne Victory prohibiting general admission members and ticket holders from standing directly behind the goals, infuriating the North Terrace.
These active groups have and will always be the backbone to the league’s identity and it’s time for the FFA to allow the fans to reclaim the game.
Organically orchestrating excitement through pelting choruses of slurs towards the opposition and waterfalling beer after a sweet strike from 30 yards out distinguishes football fans and the A-League from any other sport in Australia.
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Unfortunately, the clubs and FFA failed to capitalise on this and have instead chased revenue at the expense of the fans.
The most obvious case was the desire to maximise attendances by scheduling matches at larger
venues for key fixtures which in turn significantly tarnished the creation of any atmosphere.
Travelling to Etihad Stadium is often a chore for Victory fans and many were certainly dumbfounded by the decision to play one of the most atmospheric fixtures in Adelaide United versus Melbourne Victory at the Adelaide Oval.
People being introduced to the A-League will not be enticed by the league’s standard when they have the option of watching higher quality elsewhere, but instead by the atmosphere which amplifies the excitement on the field.
The leagues identity can only thrive in stadia where fans in row Z are in touching distance of the players, regardless of how a team is performing fans will always attend matches at the smaller stadiums to a be part of this atmosphere.
This is the league’s main selling point.
The A-League should be marketed as the people’s game, something affordable and accessible which works towards bridging the gap between football at a grassroots and professional level.
Moreover, to coincide with this ‘people’s game’ movement ticket prices must be lowered as a means of enticing football fans and families yet to experience the A-League.
Across the league the average price for an adult general admission ticket is $27 whereas the average price for a child aged 4-16 is $11.55, with the Phoenix and Victory charging only $5.50 and $6 respectively for children.
While the adult prices should be lowered the age group the FFA should target are concessions.
Fans aged in this bracket are currently paying up to $22 for a ticket, which in comparison to other codes is not too bad but must be lowered for the league to set itself aside and solidify this type of identity.
Grassroots and professional football may be run under the same banner yet the two are hemispheres apart.
Offering discounted tickets for registered players or rescheduling the A-League grand final to a time which doesn’t clash with NPL and State League matches on a Sunday afternoon could go a long way in reinvigorating excitement for the league.
There is genuine interest for the game in Australia, why else would it be the most participated sport?
Fans are the core to football’s identity and football is pivotal to theirs.
It’s time the FFA and clubs allow the league to become this point of difference where the game belongs to sport’s most valuable stakeholders.