And so another season of the A-League has kicked off. After a series of missteps by the new owners, we have fumbled our way to season 15.
An increasing concern, along with the strategic and administrative blunders of those in charge, is the fact many fans have rose-coloured glasses in regards to the state of the league.
The league is in significant trouble and the window of opportunity to fix the issues is rapidly closing, not helped by the new owners’ poor start and compounded by fans who refuse to see the situation for what it is. Fans are the heartbeat of the game and we will not solve a problem if we refuse to acknowledge its severity.
Just a couple of weeks ago, we had predictions of record crowds for Round 1. This is a perfect example of how detached well meaning and intelligent fans are from reality.
The combined attendance for Round 1 was 78,600 – more than 27,000 short of the Round 1 record of 106,365 set in the 2016/17 season. Worse still, it was more than 6000 short of last season’s Round 1 attendance of 84,761. To make matters even worse, this round also featured the Wanderers’ homecoming to Parramatta.
We have a league whose ratings and crowds are in decline, whose visibility is declining, whose broadcaster’s appetite for it is heading south and whose quality of football is the worst it has been in years… and we expect record crowds?
A troubling new dynamic has also arisen. The A-League’s radio promotion couldn’t get off the ground because owners couldn’t agree on the make up. Lets’s hope these are just teething issues.
The TV deal with the ABC is a bad deal. It was cobbled together in three days because none of the major free-to-air channels wanted the rights. We are stuck with 5pm games, which disproportionately feature the Central Coast Mariners and Wellington Phoenix. No disrespect to these fine clubs but these are hardly the teams who will be attracting the desperately needed higher ratings and interest.
Yet many fans still have their heads in the sand. Despite plenty of push-back from fellow fans, I knew Gold Coast United and North Queensland Fury would both struggle to survive as soon as they were admitted to the competition.
The A-League is full of red flags. The culture is poor.
Marquees should be non-negotiable. The idea we cannot have marquees given our limitations is a cop out. Once you limit yourself with your imagination, then the battle is lost. You think outside the square and you strategise. We have had successful marquees before we can do it again.
When the owners came in with promises of spending big, didn’t we all assume that a natural part of this would be spending on marquees to give the league a much needed short-term boost and to spark interest? We are the world gam. We should be leveraging this.
We have Western United, which most fans believe is a bad idea and rightly so. They will struggle to survive. Their only saving grace may be that they will have their own stadium. This infrastructure may actually then put pressure on Melbourne City, who have largely failed to capture the imagination, have not sufficiently differentiated themselves from Melbourne Victory, and whose owners are not impressed with the team’s progress and penetration.
The owners have started badly. If they can quickly up their game and put resources into the code, and come up with a concise strategy utilising football’s unique value proposition, then there is a glimmer of hope.
There may also be something from left field. If Foxtel can win back the Premier League rights, this may provide a short-term shot in the arm for the A-League. The time frame for this, though, is extremely narrow and the game will still have longer term issues to contend with.
Some people say if you don’t like it, don’t watch it. This is the problem.
The game is not only not attracting new fans, but it is losing rusted-on ones. Some fans recognise how dire things are but a significant number still have the rose-coloured glasses on.
We need to all be on the same page and once we recognise the game is in serious trouble, we can move to make our voices heard and hopefully play a role in fixing these issues.
Time is of the essence.