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Opinion

A-League’s winter move fraught with danger

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Expert
22nd June, 2020
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2340 Reads

Beggars cannot be choosers and as such, Football Federation Australia has accepted Foxtel’s new and less financially rewarding deal to cover A-League football for the next 12 months.

Had they not, the domestic game was at risk of becoming an innocuous or potentially invisible entity.

Without a host broadcaster, A-League football would lose its face. Thankfully that scenario has been avoided, yet what occurs beyond winter 2021 when the new arrangement comes to its conclusion is anyone’s guess.

But for now at least, there are many sighs of relief, blended with real concerns around which direction the local game will head in the World Cup year of 2022.

The new deal sees Fox Sports remain the host broadcaster of the soon to be briskly wound up 2019/20 season, as well as the new campaign that will begin in December.

That new season will run into the depths of winter and return the game to a seasonal time slot that was jettisoned just over 30 years ago.

FFA head James Johnson has hinted strongly at the advantages of re-aligning the top flight competition with NPL competitions and junior play around the country; stating clearly that uniting the game will depend greatly on gathering it under a single umbrella.

FFA CEO James Johnson

FFA CEO James Johnson. (Photo by Brook Mitchell/Getty Images)

From there, the governing body will hope to morph, shape and steer Australian football into a brave new era.

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A natural by-product of Friday’s announcement will be partisan positions and people both for and against the move will be adamant that a successful future relies on the game being played at a time that aligns with their view.

There are an array of issues, problems and sticking points that will make the timing change a difficult task, just as playing modern football in oppressive summer conditions has presented a host of challenges throughout the history of the A-League.

Effectively, discussions and debate around the move will focus on three key areas.

#1 Should football enjoy the free air in summer or tackle other codes head on during winter?
The A-League enjoyed not competing with the other major football codes in Australia during summer. Cricket and basketball became their warm weather rivals but in reality, all three had little impact on each other’s attendances and viewing metrics.

Winter presents a different beast altogether, with many NRL and AFL fans potentially forced to choose between their first love and an additional interest in football.

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For most, that decision will be a no-brainer, and in what will be a hectic winter period for those of us attempting to keep up to speed with all three codes, some who have taken a moderate interest and previously viewed A-League play may do so less frequently in the future.

#2 With flat lining crowds already an issue, is a winter move destined to accelerate the decline?
Crowds are impacted significantly by inclement weather, and whilst Brisbane Roar may well enjoy the switch, knowing that an average temperature of 21-22 degrees through the winter months will mean generally pleasant conditions for their home matches, southern parts of Australia will be typically frigid at times and the trip to Wellington may well become something akin to an Antarctic adventure.

Many Australians are traditionally reluctant to throw on a coat and beanie to brave appalling conditions, something no doubt born of our enjoyment of such a generally temperate and pleasant climate, as well as the attractive option of a night in front of a television and warm fire, watching the contest from home.

Potentially, many will chose this option more frequently in the winter months and on freezing nights, A-League matches with less than 5,000 fans could become all too common.

All sports suffer losses when the weather gods conspire to make attendance at matches unattractive, yet the potential impact on A-League clubs’ game day revenue is realistic and concerning.

An empty stadium in the A-League

An empty stadium watches on. (AAP Image/Dean Lewins)

#3 Will a deterioration in the standard of A-League pitches hamper the product?
With all four codes running concurrently, the pitch conditions required for top quality football will become difficult to maintain in many Australian stadiums.

The Roar have traditionally battled with poor surfaces in the final months of the A-League season, when the Brisbane Broncos have begun chopping up Suncorp Stadium in March and April, as well as they odd concert or two. Winter football would see that battle run for the entire season.

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AAMI Park, Marvel Stadium and GMHBA Stadium will host AFL, rugby union and league fixtures, sometimes just days or hours before Melbourne Victory, Melbourne City and/or Western United attempt to impress their fans on their surfaces.

Sydney FC, Western Sydney and Macarthur FC will face a similar dilemma in Sydney.

Still years away from a completed venue on the site of the former Sydney Football Stadium, Bankwest Stadium has been doing the lion’s share of the work.

The venue looks likely to host at least two codes on a weekly basis, with rugby also destined to use the facility when the Waratahs eventually return to the field in a newly structured competition.

Suburban grounds such as Netstrata Jubilee and Leichhardt Oval will be nowhere near as smooth and manicured as during the summer months and the Jets will also share McDonald Jones Stadium with their league counterparts.

Adelaide United, Perth Glory and Central Coast Mariners should always provide a decent surface, however, with memories of some appalling A-League pitches used during the early months of the league and union seasons still vivid, it is fair to be concerned about the level of football produced on what will undoubtedly be pitches of lesser quality.

Is the move to winter realistic? Wise? Or potentially another disastrous tinkering with Australian football? Have your say on these core issues below.

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