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How much trouble is the A-League seriously in?

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Expert
8th March, 2020
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4890 Reads

There were 24 goals scored on another wild weekend of A-League action, but none of it matters much if clubs forget it’s their job to get fans through the gates and not just to play.

Florin Berenguer’s curling long-range strike in Melbourne City’s win over Perth Glory on Sunday was a Montbéliard-made work of art.

It was the pick of the goals in a wildly entertaining clash from a player who looks a million dollars one minute and like he’s got himself lost on a professional football pitch the next.

City’s 3-2 victory was thrilling stuff in a contest between two sides jostling for second spot on the ladder. How many people watched it, though?

There were 8107 fans in attendance, many of whom were forced to squint their way through in a stadium offering practically no shade from the harsh glare of the autumn sun.

The 3pm local kick-off did little to help, however the time difference with the eastern seaboard makes scheduling tough, particularly as Fox Sports prefers to broadcast their fixtures back-to-back.

Diego Castro

Diego Castro starred in an A-League thriller… but how many people actually saw it? (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

Yet all it will take to fill the stadium next time – if you believe some of the online chatter – is for clubs to bundle Sunday’s goals into a neat little package sharable across social media.

Because that’s really what we’re talking about when we say that A-League viewing habits have changed.

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It’s become almost a reflex to suggest that even though TV viewing figures have collapsed, the A-League is actually going great guns because so many fans are streaming it.

But are they? How do we know? And how much of the match are they actually watching?

I’m old enough to be inconvenienced by the inexorable march towards streaming, but savvy enough to know it’s the inevitable way forward.

If a football highlights package is what it takes for a telco company to shift a few more handsets, then bring on the future.

But just like newspapers lost their so-called rivers of gold in the form of the lucrative classifieds that bankrolled their entire operation, professional sports in Australia might soon be about to experience their own watershed moment.

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Because unless streaming rights end up being as lucrative as what broadcasters like Fox Sports are willing to pay, then competitions like the A-League are going to have to cut back.

It’s already starting to happen. Simon Hill and Andy Harper called yesterday’s Glory game from the studio in Sydney, instead of at the stadium in Perth.

And for some fans that’s not a problem. But I’d hazard a guess they’re not the same fans willing to shell out for the cable TV subscriptions currently keeping the A-League afloat.

One of the easiest ways to stem the over-reliance on TV money is for clubs to start selling a few more tickets on match days, and it’s here that certain attitudes surely need to change.

Empty seats at the A-League.

Empty seats are all too common at the A-League this season. (Albert Perez/Getty Images)

Melbourne Victory charging Sydney FC fans $53.86 plus booking fee for tickets to Saturday’s showdown is beneath contempt, and the $38.56 seats one bay over were no better.

The dismal attendance of 15,102 fans who filed through the gates at the hated Marvel Stadium was exactly what Victory officials deserved.

Why should they care, though? It’s not like they paid to get in.

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But unless officials start to remember why they’re in this business – to entertain fans, not run teams nobody watches – then the competition is in trouble.

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Because what the A-League has right now is a genuine perception problem.

The standard of football is great, but you wouldn’t know it from the headlines.

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However, ticket prices are too high. And clubs still don’t listen to fans. And there’s too much emphasis on running the football side of things purely for the sake of it.

Something needs to change.

Otherwise we’ll soon be spending our Sunday afternoons watching cat videos on TikTok, instead of a professional football league that everyone seemed to think was too big to fail.