There’s a perfect storm brewing in the world of professional sport and the A-League has been one of the first competitions in Australia to feel the full effect.
It’s no secret that Australian football is at a lull in terms of popularity and creativity.
Whether the predominant reason is lack of quality, lack of cultural significance, or a combination of both, we find ourselves at a vulnerable and incredibly important time in Australian football. If it wants to remain a viable sporting profession, or even somewhat mainstream, it must start appeasing Australia’s football fans and somehow reignite interest in the sport.
As the former isn’t being done quick enough (which, in turn, impedes on the latter increasing), we have to look outside the sport to see what we can do to assist this matter. When looking at other competitions in Australia, some of the most important sporting events come from cricket, which has remained a staple to the average Australian.
While cricket is an incredibly popular sport, not just in the world, but more importantly in Australia, it has been able to create modified versions of itself in order to cover more demographics and provide alternative experiences for sports fans. This got me thinking; would a modified football competition arouse interest in non-football fans and the Australian public in general?
While a reimagining of football may upset many, the main reason for its creation would be to entice those who aren’t upset by it, as in people who aren’t already interested in football but could be swayed with the right experience. Ignoring personal choice, which isn’t something we can completely account for everyone, are there fundamental positives that would come from creating such a sport, based off of a competition that isn’t deemed interesting enough to begin with?
Utilising a combination of classic football, AFL and futsal, the sport would aim to provide a faster, shorter and more intense experience. The game would, for the most part, play like a normal football match, with the same basic rules in place (most goals win, use feet, etc.) In spite of the match being played on the same sized field as regular football, there would be shorter halves, or even quarters in order to focus on quicker plays and more aggressive football.
With this, a fervent game is created, one that emphasises more dynamic play. Rolling subs may also be put in place, in order to allow for a more fluid match, as opposed to the constant stops in-between. While, for the most part, the game remains that same, these small changes would result in a completely new strategy in order to succeed within these new confines. The game is much like football, but the time segmentation and substitutions disrupt the conventional rules.
Its pacing is similar to futsal, but it takes place on a full pitch with more players. There’s so much to account for, yet insight into the game must become reflexive in order to keep up with it and ultimately be successful.
The rules established are, of course, subject to change (considering I’ve only provided a bare-bones account), and there are so many other rules that could be introduced as well, like bigger goals or the abandonment of the offside rule during extra time, but the sport’s focus remains the same: fast, short and intense.
If the sport was able to gain its own fan-base, that would be ideal. But ultimately, its purpose would be to create interest in Australian football and bridge the gap between non-supporters and supporters. It would also give Australian footballers something to do in the offseason. Having these players ensures that the game would remain at a high technical quality, and if NPL players were also eligible for enlistment, provide another pathway for Australian footballers to make it to the big screen, or just another football program open for the youth during offseason.
It could be financed through franchise fees and TV/radio rights, which isn’t impossible practically, as the FFA introduced a summer league from 2008-13. While the rules are subject to change, there are a few important elements that may make this sport successful.
Having fewer teams than a normal football league would be essential in this Big Bash equivalent. Not in the A-League sense, in which teams were picked with the intention of adding more in later to fill out the underrepresented areas, only for that not to happen. There could be sex to eight geographically varied teams, none of which traverse on the other’s area and all of which represent important areas in Australia.
While it may look similar in terms of numbers, there will be less fan segmentation within closer areas like Melbourne Victory and Melbourne City, meaning there is more of a chance that each team will be able to pull in bigger numbers/establish a concrete fan-base.
Another big change that may be for the better is the inclusion of boutique stadiums as the primary venue for this sport. If an Australian football league match in the top division can barely fill a chunk of a stadium, then it would be a risk to try and play these matches at such venues. There’d be a much better chance of filling up venues like Lakeside Stadium, for example, which holds a capacity of 12,000 people.
This would bring with it a more likely chance of making a profit along with bringing a better atmosphere for the supporters. If it were to be popular, its exclusivity may increase interest in attending games.
With the establishment of a football Big Bash in Australia, a sense of nationalism may also be ascribed to it. It’s no secret that the beautiful game is not a staple in the Australian lifestyle, but the cultural significance of this sport being created here brings with it a sense of attachment, and if it were to be successful, another element of Australia’s sporting history.
A sport so ingrained in this country, alongside the media’s conception of such a spectacle, could link football to Australia in a way that it never has been before.
There doesn’t seem to be too much to lose in creating a sport like this; either it doesn’t work out, but can’t really impede on football’s popularity in Australia (or lack thereof), or it attracts the interest of Australians either for its links to football (for fans), or just the spectacle of it for non-fans.
Sporting innovation doesn’t necessarily mean updating the rules of a game. Sometimes it might mean creating events in order to highlight the importance and excitement of it, or in this instance, creating a completely complementary game. It has the potential to act as a stepping stone between non-fans and the game of football.
It has the potential to establish fans of its own and create its own identity. Or it could completely flop. But providing alternative football products alongside our developing system may bring with it fans, and with fans comes money, and with funding, a lot more may be done for Australian football.
And, ultimately, sport is meant to bring people together, and if we can create something that genuinely unites Australians, that’s also a win for me.