Australian football is in the middle of a freezing storm, as cynics talk about the demise of the world game Down Under. It’s time for Australian football to have a major spring clean and really shake up the domestic game. It is time to be bold.
Purists have been demanding promotion and relegation for years. It’s got to the point where no conversation about Australia’s domestic league is complete without someone banging on about how Europe has different tiers.
The commercial reality is Australian football cannot afford to have more than one tier, yet too many meaningless games in the A-League have made the competition dull.
As a Wanderers fan at the 1-1 draw against Perth, I wasn’t too worried about not getting a result. We are still within the top six – and therefore likely to make the finals – despite a disappointing season on the pitch. If we were seventh or eighth, it might mean more, but still not enough to care as much as I would if there was a risk of relegation.
Promotion and relegation adds theatre and drama. It makes otherwise meaningless games, well, meaningful! This means bigger crowds and TV audiences, and potentially more sponsors.
I have been cynical about how lower-tier clubs can generate enough funding to survive. The average Australian sports fan are more fickle than a relationship on The Batchelor and likely won’t follow a team in the second tier. The hardcore, passionate, loyal fan isn’t enough for a football club to raise money in a second rate competition to survive.
Any money generated from the top division needs to trickle down to the second tier, to ensure these clubs’ survival. A Premier League-type shareholding structure must be spread across the two divisions.
The main voices asking for promotion and relegation are the pioneers of the old NSL clubs. The Melbourne Knights and West Adelaides of the world want an invitation back to the big dance. These clubs won’t have a chance in hell of ever attracting the type of crowds that FFA officials dream off, which is why it’s important the second tier is filled with new clubs (with maybe the odd old-school club who has strong finances – e.g. South Melbourne – getting a chance).
The likes of Canberra, Geelong, South East Melbourne and Tasmania should all be given the chance of getting into the top tier by earning it on the field. These new clubs, being free from any historical contempt, would be able to attract a wide range of fans in their respective markets.
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Can you imagine Sydney FC or Melbourne Victory being involved in a relegation battle? The crowds would more likely come than if they had no chance of making the finals and were just going through the motions, like the Mariners and Phoenix are doing right now.
Just imagine if Geelong or Tasmania were in the second tier and on the cusp of getting promotion – hardcore fans in those regions would be pumped, but maybe the odd casual supporter might perk up with a sense of interest and even loyalty to their postcode. That’s exactly what we need.
A genuine second tier would also give an opportunity for players in the NPL competitions around the country a chance to shine on a national stage. The NPL competitions are not given much mainstream media attention, apart from the FFA Cup, which is why players in those competitions often miss out on a chance to get a full-time professional contract. There are some unpolished diamonds in those state-based competitions just waiting for a chance to shine. Providing such opportunities wouldn’t hurt our national team either.
The quality of football in the A-League has been pretty good this season, however this has gone relatively unnoticed. Negativity spreads faster and takes over quicker than the chicken pox. The stale and boring nature of the league means people fail to see past this and forget to see the healthy and good aspects of our game.
Apart from the quality we have on the park, we have games played at fantastic stadiums (who doesn’t love the history of Suncorp Stadium or the intimacy of Perth’s nib Stadium). We have excellent TV coverage, with the Foxtel crew doing an extremely professional job of promoting the game. We have been the first major country to employ the VAR, showing the technological advances being made in our game. We have mini roos kids, who are excited about getting on the big stage at halftime.
The Wanderers’ fans, especially the RBB, have added a wonderful dimension with the atmosphere at our games second to none. Yes, at the moment the club is going through some internal battles with the RBB but make no mistake, they will be back bigger and better than before after this minor bump in the road.
All of these positives are ignored as everyone focuses on the lack of meaningfulness to games and the fact the same teams play each other over and over again, which just makes things boring.
Much like a marriage that has lost its spark, the game needs someone to be bold and daring and try something different. Something that might not make a lot of sense but will add some flavour and variety. In turn, the interest this will generate might just provide the money needed to make it all work.
Time to be bold!