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Opinion

Will a returning A-League have fans, fit players or a broadcaster?

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Expert
8th June, 2020
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1293 Reads

Compared to many nations around the globe and perhaps thanks to our relative geographical isolation, Australia appears to have weathered the worst of the coronavirus storm.

Fears of a resurgence of the virus during the winter are real and concerning, yet should the Australian population remain vigilant and sensible, there is a distinct possibility that the land down under may well be returning to something resembling normal, sooner rather than later.

As such, football will likely be back by the middle of the season.

Junior training has already been given the green light to resume and federations have begun laying out the requirements to be adhered to at sessions, as clubs begin to inform their members of those procedures and the ramifications going forward.

Football is mirroring life in the most accurate manner, with a clear emphasis on a safe return to play reflecting the official and consistent messaging that has emanated from state governments over the past few months.

The jury is still out on NPL play, with many Victorian and New South Wales clubs concerned about a recommencement that may in fact nosedive them further into the red.

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With the cost of wages, security, officials and other debits destined to exist if and when NPL competitions do resume, clubs are concerned that in the absence of fans ticking through the gates and sponsorship dollars already in jeopardy or lost, a restart may well spiral them to a point of no return.

However, the A-League managed to dodge the most decisive of bullets when Foxtel honoured the final payment due for season 2019-20 under the existing broadcast deal and a mid-July return now appears likely.

Yet the question of what things will look like when that day does arrive is yet to be answered and may well not be until the reality comes to pass.

Three key questions will be addressed in time as the top tier of Australian football recommences in July.

#1 The fans
As rugby league pushes ahead, trailblazing a post COVID path in Australian sport, a small portion of fans appear likely to be permitted into NRL stadiums as early as next weekend.

With A-League play still a month away, will the first round of matches feature fans in the stadium or merely cardboard cut-outs – reflective of a more cautious approach to recommencement?

Perhaps the sheer audacity shown by rugby league’s Peter V’landys should be the model that FFA and the club owners pursue; with clear evidence that if all the boxes are ticked and medical safeguards meticulously put in place, the what once seemed impossible can in fact be achieved.

Subsequently, the question of fans’ eagerness to attend is unknown. Will a lingering health risk keep them away or will football’s lustre bring them back in droves?

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Cardboard cut-outs of NRL fans

Cardboard cut-outs of NRL fans. (AAP Image/Craig Golding)

#2 The players
In what state A-League players will return to the pitch is an unknown and potentially a championship defining aspect of the A-League’s recommencement.

Individual training programs will no doubt have been adhered to, yet actual competitive play will have been absent for over three months when the players do return.

It is common for a player resuming after a long-term injury to require a considerable number of weeks to regain form, timing and fitness. Most players will be in a similar position and with 32 matches slated to be played in just 36 days, there will be little time to build a fitness or form base.

In short, the team that comes back the fittest, sharpest and displays the least signs of rust may well walk away with an A-League championship that will never be forgotten.

Nathaniel Atkinson

Nathaniel Atkinson impressed for Melbourne City. (Photo by Kelly Defina/Getty Images)

#3 The broadcaster
With everything in place bar a final and rigid agreement between the A-League and Foxtel, there is a sense of nervousness in the air.

Logic suggests that when the matches do return, Fox Sports will be the platform many Australians access for vision.

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However, with rumours abound that the media giant’s individual financial position makes their continued support of the league somewhat tenuous, stranger things have happened.

Despite the final payment of the broadcast deal being honoured, could the A-League actually recommence without coverage on pay television?

That scenario does seem unlikely, yet should Foxtel be keen to immediately lessen its financial commitment to the game and FFA does indeed dig in its heels; demanding the honouring of a six-year contract, the matter could well be headed for the courts.

Such an outcome could well bankrupt FFA, something that will surely inform their approach to what looms as an impasse with the host broadcaster.

In a perfect world, fans will be permitted back into Australian stadiums for the resumption of play, the players will return in peak fitness after a solid month on the training track and Fox Sports will pick up where it left off as the host broadcaster of the league.

However, as seamless and smooth as that may all sound, the events of 2020 should encourage us all to expect the unexpected.