If Perth Glory owner Tony Sage is on the money and A-League franchises are on the verge of acquiring somewhere near an extra $80 million, a significant change is looming in Australian football.
A few days ago Luke Patitsas wrote on The Roar about his idea for a Big Bash-style tournament for the A-League.
Given past crowds and TV ratings for the BBL and the relative lack of interest in the A-League last season it isn’t hard to see why the sTwenty20 cricket format appeals as a model.
In fact a number of sports have created new versions of their own codes that are faster paced, freer flowing and higher scoring. Cricket has T20, rugby union has rugby sevens, rugby league has rugby nines, AFL has AFLX, tennis has fast four, golf has golf sixes and so on.
But unlike Luke Patitsas, I don’t think a new form of the game needs to become a separate sport with its own league.
Another article written by Chris Edwards in 2017 might provide a better option. Instead of a whole home-and-away league, he looks to the annual Hong Kong Football Club Soccer Sevens tournament, which is mostly contested by academy and under-23 clubs from around the world.
This version of the game was created after rugby sevens first took off internationally and follows a similar format. The main differences are that there are only seven players allowed on the pitch, there are rolling substitutions, there’s no offside rule and the games are 15 minutes in length during the group stage and 20 minutes long in the knockout rounds.
Tournament director Chris Plowman is enthusiastic about the concept, saying, “It’s a fantastic fast-paced format of the game which kicks up some amazing action.”
Hong Kong Football Association CEO Mark Sutcliffe is even more upbeat, saying, “I’d like to think that eventually it will come close to rivalling the rugby sevens!”
A number of well-known and distinguished clubs have sent sides to compete, including Blackburn Rovers, Arsenal, Aston Villa, PSV Eindhoven, Manchester United, Kashima Antlers, Chelsea, Birmingham City, Glasgow Celtic, Newcastle United, Leicester City, Ajax, Urawa Red Diamonds, Olympique Marseille, Sheffield FC, Cagliari Calcio, Manchester City, Atlético Madrid, Liverpool, Stoke City, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Sunderland, Bayer Leverkusen, Fulham, Brighton and Hove Albion, Glasgow Rangers and West Ham United.
A-League sides Newcastle Jets, Central Coast Mariners and Wellington Phoenix have also taken part in the tournament. It’s clear that all these clubs must see some sort of benefit in participating.
The HKFC Soccer Sevens format would lend itself well to an eight-team, one-day State of Origin tournament as it allows the use of a full-size pitch and standard-size goals as well as a regular ball, unlike futsal, but it would be played at a similar pace and be higher scoring, so it fills a niche between the two.
An eight-team State of Origin tournament could consist of teams representing New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia, Tasmania, the Australian Capital Territory and Northern Australia, copmrising North Queensland plus Northern Territory. The six matches in each group of four plus the two semi-finals and the final would make 15 matches all up. Even with the longer 20-minute running time for finals would mean the tournament would be only 300 minutes, or five hours, in total.
If you had an average of three goals per match, that’s around 50 goals in a day’s viewing.
Apart from State of Origin or preseason display matches, the HKFC Soccer Sevens format could also be a good way to give more people the chance to play on a limited number of fields. While you can divide a full-size pitch into four smaller ones, you can also divide it by time. With four football Sevens matches having about the same duration as a single 11-a-side match, 80 players could use the pitch in the same amount of time, including substitutions.
Overall, though, I don’t think a new form of the game will greatly improve crowd sizes or TV ratings for the A-League. I think it’s worth noting at this point that the futsal F-League folded in 2017 due to lack of player applications. In total there were 17 teams that took part in the league over its brief six-year history, with nine of them folding. The chances for a new form of the game aren’t good.
But maybe a HKFC Soccer Sevens-style tournament could still manage to fill a small niche.
At the very least a preseason State of Origin tournament could provide a good opportunity for FFA to do an official season launch as part of a fan-day type festival. So, at least that’s something.