Despite what many think about the A-League and it’s ‘standard’ of play, it is as big and successful as leagues in Europe.
A-League attendance has been a big talking point this season, as it’s down by 13 per cent since last year.
Is that any surprise without a marquee player and during all the conflict between clubs and the FFA? Let’s call this a bad year.
Remember last season, when the Sydney Derby had 62,000 there and Tim Cahill’s goal in Round 2? Last season, the league was ranked 16th for attendance, just behind the Scottish League and ahead of the Portuguese, Russian, Belgian, Turkish and Swiss leagues – all respected for their standard of play.
Locally, we had an average attendance of 12,300. By comparison, on average last season Croatia had under 3000, Czech Republic under 5000 and Greece under 4000 average crowds. Surprising, isn’t it?
But in Australia, we play in huge stadiums that are made for other codes, rather than the boutique stadiums of Europe that create a fantastic atmosphere on a weekly basis. This has to be part of the thinking for expansion teams – boutique, 20,000 capacity, with a great atmosphere.
In Scotland, Ross County have a maximum capacity of 6941 and even Bournemouth in the English Premier League have a capacity of just 11,360. (As a side note, it’s unclear why Australian governments insist on having 30,000-plus stadiums when A-League and NRL have small average crowds.)
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The other thing about our attendance is that we probably compare ourselves to the AFL and the Big Bash, which are both in the top-ten best attended leagues in the world on average.
NRL, by comparison, claims around 14,900 as an average attendance for the regular season, which is propped up by Brisbane, Melbourne and North Queensland, who are the only teams that average over 16,000. I find it hard to believe that the Roosters average 15,400. Really?
Another interesting aspect is the value of the Australian broadcast deal (including A-League, Socceroos and Matildas) of around $57 million per year.
In Scotland, their broadcast is only worth $33 million. Poland is similar to ours, at around $49 million. It’s interesting that Turkey has low attendance but has a great broadcast deal, worth around $680 million per year.
All of these leagues are bigger than the A-League – Scotland have 12 teams, Poland and Turkey have 18, which shows that we’re due for more teams in Australia (name another top-tier league with ten teams, I couldn’t find one).
According to Deloitte, average revenues of Scottish, Danish, Polish, Swedish clubs are around $10 to 20 million, which is probably similar to Australian teams. By comparison, Adelaide sold for a reported $12 million last week to a Dutch owner and it’s one of the mid-sized clubs.
In terms of players, there are a few comparisons. Bobo played 211 times in the Turkish Super Liga for Besiktas and Kayserispor, scoring 95 times (2.2 per goal in Turkey versus 1.4 in the A-League). Diego Castro played 260 times in La Liga, while Eric Bautheac played for Lille 41 times in Ligue 1 over the last two seasons.
Ross McCormack was a big signing for Aston Villa from Fulham in the Championship in 2017. He scored every 2.5 games before joining Villa so he was a proven goal scorer at that level, before nailing 14 goals in 16 games this A-League season.
Aaron Mooy dominated the Championship last season and has gone on to do really well in the EPL – just two seasons after leaving the A-League.
All were or are good players in the A-League, but they’re not scoring hat-tricks every week. This suggested that the standard of play is pretty good.
Either way, we might be being a bit hard on ourselves and those saying we’re going to collapse might dramatising.
Our league is probably as good as many mid-sized European leagues. We should be proud of that, given it’s only 12 seasons old.
Let’s continue to strive to be better, no question, but claiming the A-League is broken or not that good is plain wrong.