The Big Bash League was the biggest non-event since Y2K and the footy seasons are still a month away, so what better time for a code war than the middle of a busy A-League campaign?
Batten down the hatches, dear readers, because you know what’s coming!
There we were, minding our own business and enjoying the pleasant afterglow of Friday night’s pulsating Melbourne derby, when The Daily Telegraph’s sports editor-at-large Phil Rothfield goes and ruins it all by saying the Sydney derby had been “embarrassingly shunted from the ABC’s main station to the national broadcaster’s secondary kids channel, ABC Me”.
Fighting words from Buzz, although he neglected to mention that having only agreed to a last-minute deal to screen the A-League after negotiations with Network Ten fell through, the ABC invariably had pre-existing broadcast obligations in place.
Nor did he mention that all anecdotal evidence suggests that it’s football fans leading the charge and signing up for streaming services like Kayo and Optus Sports in significant numbers.
And in fairness to Rothfield, nothing he wrote in his splash for the Sunday paper – which most A-League fans were only aware of because Fox Sports commentator Simon Hill took a photo and posted it on Twitter – was anything we hadn’t read countless times before.
Interesting that both Sydney dailies give prominent space to League journalists to attack football in derby week. Perhaps a response to these death-riders might be timely from our leaders????? ps ABC had a long-standing commitment to golf – conveniently omitted here. pic.twitter.com/0ov9NYWpzY
— simonhill1894 (@simonhill1894) February 8, 2020
But it wasn’t so much what Rothfield said, but rather why he said it, that should interest football fans.
There’s no denying A-League metrics aren’t great right now.
And Rothfield is right when he says competitions like the increasingly popular NBA hold widespread appeal to a younger demographic.
Realistically, though, that impacts the NRL – which for years has skewed towards a middle-aged, middle-class viewership with the disposable income to shell out for newspaper and Fox Sports subscriptions – more than it does the A-League.
It’s worth remembering that in cities like Sydney and Brisbane News Corp remains committed to trying to drive newspaper subscriptions by aiming plenty of content at NRL fans.
However, a quick look at a few other facets of the code suggests it’s not all roses and sunshine out there in rugby league land.
Take the club Sydney FC currently share their Jubilee Oval home in Kogarah with. Last season the St George Illawarra Dragons played just five games at the venue, attracting crowds of 10,080, 13,409, 9645, 6532 and 9087.
Sydney FC have already drawn crowds of 16,116 against Melbourne Victory and 17,421 against Melbourne City this season and were expecting a full house for the postponed derby against the Wanderers.
To an outsider it would appear that one of these clubs is decidedly more popular than the other. However, that’s not a suggestion you’ll often see made in the mainstream media.
Yet the Dragons will soon have some added company in Kogarah, because Rothfield’s beloved Cronulla Sharks will spend this season playing out of the home of their most bitter rivals. That’s because the Sharks are effectively homeless, have no licenced club and no current chief executive to speak of.
Problems? The A-League ain’t the only place with them.
But highlighting as much is to miss the bigger picture. It’s not by peering over the fence that the A-League will solve the issues in its own backyard, because football doesn’t need rusted-on rugby league journos with no skin in the game and no desire to see it flourish to tell us what we already know.
This is a big year for Australia’s national teams, with the Olyroos, Socceroos and hopefully the Matildas all set to take part in significant international tournaments.
But Rothfield’s not wrong when he says the A-League’s struggling.
And while it’s all well and good to rage against the mainstream media machine in the comments section of online columns like this one, there’s an even better way to help prove the A-League’s doubters wrong.
It’s to attend a match, watch the broadcasts and return to once again doing what football fans do the world over: support.