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A-League: A game in crisis

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Roar Rookie
11th April, 2019
16

Make no mistake, the A-League is at a crossroads.

On August 2008 it was announced that both North Queensland Fury and Gold Coast United were to be admitted into the A-League.

Upon hearing the news I casually dropped a comment on social media saying these two teams won’t last, and the Gold Coast will be lucky to average 7,000.

Turns out that was overly optimistic.

I was gobsmacked when I later checked my comment at the torrent of abuse and disagreement I received. That I was delusional and I was out of touch.

To me it was simple. The FFA had (and still has) significant administrative issues and it had not undertaken the proper due diligence in two markets where it would be notoriously difficult to capture long-term sustainable support.

But some fans to this day still have their heads buried in the sand. Talk abounds about a 14-team competition – no let’s try a 16-team competition! Let’s throw in a second division while we are at it. It seems many fans have lost touch with reality and created their own collective fantasy league in the process.

We have had four new teams participate in the A-League since its inception. Two have fallen over. The other two remain but not without some issues.

One (Melbourne City) has no identity, struggles for fans and have owners who have no real interest in utilising their overseas networks.

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The other is the Wanderers. If you couldn’t succeed with a team in football’s heartland then you may as well pack up and go home. But remember when the Wanderers were admitted the FFA (an organisation which needed a bail out to survive) was on its knees.

It had no choice but to give the fans a voice. But hey, I suppose a success rate of one out of four isn’t bad. Oh and lets also not forget the New Zealand Knights.

Even worse is this constant talk among fans of scrapping, re-naming or re-branding struggling teams (Central Coast Mariners and until this season the Wellington Phoenix). These are football teams not consumer products on the shelf of your local Woolworths.

How are you going to build generational support when your loyalty and commitment to team is about as strong as a republican’s love for the monarchy? Overlay this with poor administration and lack of due diligence and well, the results are pretty easy to predict.

Chris Nikou and Dave Gallop

FFA CEO David Gallop (left) and FFA Chairman Chris Nikou (AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts)

The two new teams? Well make no mistake, this was purely a cash grab. The organisation needed two new teams in Melbourne and Sydney to unlock extra cash from Foxtel. You can see here, the issue of a business-based model as opposed to a fan-based model.

Firstly, these are two areas that weren’t screaming for a team.

Western United is a sparsely populated area and you have to seriously question whether the FFA will stick with it for ten years while development occurs in the region (even then it will be a tough ask).

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The team will struggle. Credit goes to them though for the initiative of a new stadium. That is something other clubs should have had a ten-year plan for in order to generate new revenue streams.

Sure the brand spanking new Bankwest Stadium in Western Sydney is impressive, but it will charge an arm and a leg for its use. Focus then will shift to promoting corporate boxes while many loyal longstanding Wanderers members have been pushed to less desirable seats in the stadiums corners.

The South West Sydney initiative will also struggle. No one was really shouting for a team in the area.

It looks like the FFA’s desperate cash grab may have fallen over. It has been widely reported that Foxtel have sent the FFA a concise letter indicating that unless they clean up their act, they can expect a significantly reduced TV deal.

Have people had the pleasure (or misfortune) of looking at the latest Foxtel ratings? A few years ago the league averaged 60–70,000 people on Fox per game.

In recent rounds this has collapsed to about 25,000 people. And all the while various factions are bickering for power and a piece of the collapsing castle. If they are not careful all they will have is ruins.

These ratings make no mistake do not make it worth Foxtel’s while. We have not only failed to attract new fans for the first time in our history we are losing rusted on fans who have simply had enough en masse.

The new FFA board seems just as inept as the old one, being a laughing stock of Australian sport. The current impasse between them, the clubs and other stakeholders needs to be resolved and soon. There is a myriad of issues here including who gets what percentage of the TV revenue and will the national team and juniors be disadvantaged as a result.

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Ratings collapse, declining crowds, mounting unsustainable club debt, and a youth system in ruins (don’t kid yourself) the proof is in the pudding. A recent report claimed that the value of the A-League has collapsed by 35 per cent.

This is a game in crisis. Sometimes the more things change the more they stay the same. Probably no more symbolic than the fact that today we are asking ourselves the same question we have been for 30 years.

“How do we convert our large junior base to long term fans?”