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Can the A-League persuade fans to look up from their phones?

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Expert
18th August, 2019
30
1594 Reads

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.

Here’s a question: what device are you reading this column on?

Because if you’re like me and you’ve got places to be and things to do on a Monday morning, you’re probably reading it on your phone.

How good is it? Never before in human history have we had access to so much information at our fingertips.

And if you’re anything like me you probably spend every spare second browsing social media, watching football videos and reading The Roar.

Maybe it’s become a bit of a habit. When I’m watching TV on the lounge at home, I’ll often impulsively pick up my phone and start scrolling through social media.

And while Twitter in particular allows us to share our thoughts with millions of other football fans in real time, is that necessarily a positive social experience?

There was an interesting video that ironically went viral on social media a few weeks ago, in which a college gridiron coach named Pat Fitzgerald was asked why game-day attendances had declined at Northwestern University in Illinois.

“These things,” said Fitzgerald as he held up his phone to reporters.

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“I think phones, I think technology has been (the cause of) the decline in attendance,” he added.

And if you watch the whole two-minute video, Fitzgerald speaks at length at why he believes modern technology is the “root cause” of why younger fans no longer attend and watch college football games the same way they used to.

It’s a problem English football will soon have to reckon with.

Having priced younger fans out of Premier League games with astronomical ticket costs, English officials have effectively raised a generation of fans who have only experienced football by watching it on a screen.

And while their parents and grandparents might have the disposable income required to actually get into a top-flight game, what happens when the next generation is supposed to come through?

Will they start buying tickets to something they couldn’t afford to watch as kids, or will they simply watch all the action unfold on their phones?

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Liverpool

(Photo by Nick Taylor/Liverpool FC/Liverpool FC via Getty Images)

Or will there be so many alternative entertainment options available by then, they won’t watch it at all?

You’d think today that with so many kids glued to their devices, local communities might welcome the chance to get them active outdoors.

But our phones have even changed the way we think and act in our communities.

Melbourne Victory have put forward an ambitious plan to transform an under-utilised part of Footscray Park in Melbourne’s western suburbs by building a multimillion dollar complex complete with three pitches.

The plan has generated some controversy, at least in part because it potentially means fencing off some of the land from dog walkers and members of the public.

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There are no doubt pros and cons on either side of the debate, but you wouldn’t know that from the behaviour of the “Save Footscray Park” online community, who seem to spend much of their time deleting dissenting points of view.

That’s one of the things technology has done to us. It’s made it easier to surround ourselves with like-minded individuals in a virtual space, but all this tribalism has come at a cost to our civility.

Tribalism is of course one thing we need in the A-League.

But with all the talk about marketing and metrics, has anyone stopped to consider whether the old-world way of doing things actually speaks to an army of young fans with phones in their hands?

What if they’d rather just spend time on their devices than come to the football?

Maybe the question then, heading into the new season, is whether the football on offer will be compelling enough to convince fans to look up from their phones.