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The A-League is on the up, but there's still room for improvement

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Roar Guru
25th November, 2019
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1042 Reads

A certain news article recently caused a minor stir by putting the spotlight on the all-time record attendance for an NBL game in Sydney and comparing it to the Big Blue at Kogarah.

As it turns out, the NBL match did get the bigger crowd – but not by much.

The crowd at the NBL game between the Sydney Kings and Illawarra Hawks, the only two teams in New South Wales, reached an impressive 17,541 in Homebush.

The crowd for the Big Blue in Kogarah of 16,116 however was fairly ordinary for such a significant fixture. A Big Blue crowd of that size isn’t good, but when you look at attendances across the league not all of it is bad news.

Five teams have average attendances over 10,000, with Victory in first place at 21,658 followed by the Wanderers on 17,976 since returning to Wanderland. After that you have Sydney FC with 13,054 then Brisbane Roar at 11,123 and in fifth it’s Adelaide United on 10,176.

It’s also worth pointing out that the Roar’s average was only just below the 11,497 four-day average at the Gabba for the Test match against Pakistan.

Below these you have Perth Glory and Newcastle Jets with 8,906 and 8,469 respectively, both figures being just under the magic ten thousand figure.

Then at the lower end you start to hit the main culprits. Wellington Phoenix are averaging 7,033 at the Cake Tin, which is just a terrible stadium and the Mariners figure of 6,586 is highly predictable.

But the biggest area of concern is with the Melbourne clubs.

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All three sides have their own problems. Victory have just one win from seven matches, City still have ongoing problems with their lack of geographic identity and Western United are playing at two oval stadiums outside of their main support base in Western Melbourne which is home to 700,000 people.

The attendance for the derby between Victory and City was the highest attended match this season but was still a bit down on previous years. At the same time the lowest attendance of the season for a single match is held by Western United.

It may be that the addition of Western United has diluted attendances in Melbourne as some fans of Victory and City have drifted towards them and this has reduced the overall league average.

League leaders Melbourne City have the second lowest average attendance with just 6,462 per match while Western United have the lowest in the league with 6,044 per match.

It doesn’t help make the case for a fourth Melbourne team or a second in Brisbane and it’ll be interesting to see if this pattern is repeated in Sydney next season with the entry of Macarthur FC.

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If you only look at the overall league average of 11,134 then things do look bad, but when you break it down club by club then it isn’t as bad as it first seems. You still have five teams getting over 10,000 each match and another two are just under.

The remaining four teams are Wellington Phoenix, Central Coast Mariners, Melbourne City and Western United and their poor attendance results shouldn’t surprise anyone.

A-League crowd

The A-League has struggled to attract crowds – particularly some clubs. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

With a number of potential remedies to improve attendances already out there, it should be possible to get numbers back up again with a bit of effort. If they can somehow be brought back up to the record 15,348 figure of the 2007-08 season, then it could even close in on the NRL which had an average attendance of 15,804 last year.

As for viewership, there’s also been a bit of news there too.

It’s been reported that A-League matches are getting 53,000 viewers per match on the ABC, which is up by 50 per cent compared to Ten Bold last season.

Figures on Fox Sports however have fallen off a cliff, down by 24 per cent to just 39,000 per match. This brings the combined figures to 92,000 between them.

But the main news was about online streaming. According to a report commissioned by the A-League clubs, Kayo and the Telstra MyFootball app have a reach of 100,000 – 150,000 per match which when combined with the TV figures brings the total to 192,000 – which makes 242,000 per match.

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When the story about the NBL first came out it may have ruffled a few feathers and got a reaction but attendances for the A-League aren’t really that terrible, just a bit underwhelming. The bigger concern is what Fox Sports will do at the next TV deal.

Going on current figures I doubt they’ll put up the same money again, but with the strong uptake in online streaming maybe we’ll see someone like Optus pop up and put in a good offer.

A-League attendances might be down 3.5 per cent on last season, but I don’t think that they are bad enough to start worrying about competition from the NBL.

There’s no cause for alarm.