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Opinion

This is not how the A-League was supposed to die

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Expert
6th April, 2020
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Over the years, an endless stream of theories have circulated around the reasons behind the impending and inevitable death of the A-League.

When it began in 2005-06, there was something of a last hope feeling attached to it. The game had been yanked and pulled apart since the 70s, as the powers at be sought ways to find a foothold in Australia for the most popular game on the planet.

FFA certainly hoped that would be the case, yet despite some peak moments and spikes in interest and attendance, dissenting voices would maintain the view that sustainability and Australian football do not go hand in hand and that time would once again catch up with the new league.

Recently, fears had grown that such doubt may be shifting ever closer to the truth. Crowds were down, stagnation appeared to be the favourite word of those commentating consistently on the league and corporately, A-League clubs were not financially profitable bodies.

Broadcast arrangements loomed ever closer to renegotiation and still the relatively small audience that was Fox Sports’ remained the only one capable of tuning in to all matches, highlights packages and supporting programs.

With cuts on the Fox Sports front continuing and serious questions around the media giant’s desire to continue its substantial investment in the game in the near future, desperate calls for Optus Sport to become the home base for the domestic game in Australia were understandable.

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A $3.2-million salary cap does draw some quality from abroad, yet others still bemoan the depth and talent across the scope of the competition, citing Asian Champions League results as evidence that Australian football at the top level is indeed falling further and further behind when it comes to confederation opposition.

Furthermore, sponsors are not knocking down the doors of club CEOs, numerous venues are still despised by fans and/or inappropriate for football and a few clubs have been working on a shoestring budget that appears close to severing.

No wonder it was relatively easy to mount an argument about a dying league and another long and slow process of rejuvenation, reinvention and rebirth.

An empty stadium in the A-League

How much will the coronavirus hurt the A-League? (AAP Image/Dean Lewins)

However, such doomsday prophecies were unfounded and off the mark. Despite the obvious challenges within and the considerable inadequacies of the league, calling for its extermination failed to acknowledge the positives of it and football’s reliance.

Some clubs have vanished, others been very poor for an extended period of time and the patience of fans in every A-League city has been well and truly tested. Yet the competition continued to truck along quite well.

Even recently, with both Sydney clubs suffering a nomadic existence and Brisbane Roar hitting rock bottom, before a Liverpool legend arrived to drag them back to respectability, the league was ticking along as per usual.

An average of ten thousand people were attending each match, Wellington had improved and become something of a force rather than a farce, while Perth Glory and Melbourne City had proven themselves worthy challengers to the Sydney FC dominance that had pervaded recent times.

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With Brisbane back, Adelaide talented yet inconsistent and the Wanderers rediscovering their hard edge under Jean Paul de Marigny, the A-League was brewing to something special in 2019-20 and far from the carcass of a competition many suggested it was becoming.

Rugby union had far more to fear and both AFL and rugby league’s current positions suggest that all top tier sports in Australia are far closer to financial stress and ruin than many people believe.

That threat has come to light in the form of COVID-19, a virus that has halted sport indefinitely and one they could well make some of them merely memories.

If and when things do return to normal, sponsorship will exponentially shrink, players will have faced enormous financial hardship after losing wages, and in the case of the A-League, international contracts that expire in the coming months are unlikely to be renegotiated.

Bobby Burns

Is the A-League in terminal trouble? (Photo by Ashley Feder/Getty Images)

Many of the best A-League players will leave, with slim pickings available for them to recoup lost income and the game will be comparatively broke. No doubt the fans will be keen for play, yet seeing eleven clubs survive the mess that is sport in 2020 appears unlikely.

And thus the prophecies will come true yet in a completely different set of circumstances to those oft predicted.

The A-League as we know it may well die, in spite of a 2019-20 season that was entertaining, competitive and building to a fitting climax.

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If you ever feared for the future of the A-League, know that this is not how things were supposed to end. Substandard play, no sponsors and no interest were tipped to do the job, not a virus from China.