The late Johnny Warren at a gala day in the mid-1960s at Newcastle said with these player numbers we must be able to lift to become the major code.
Connecting to the player base or lack thereof has been an issue my entire life when the sleeping giant wakes up. The issue is no-one has ever really talked to the player base.
In 1955 the then district-based competition was overrun by new teams with better finances, better ideas, better skills. However, they and all others since them have made the decision they were smart and the others dumb, so it’s our way.
This has resulted in various guises of a franchise system. Since 1955 the top level of Australian professional football has not been representative of the local districts. Instead clubs are owned mostly by individuals.
It’s too late to change, but the professional game needs to attach itself to the regional associations so they can gain access to their local park teams and their players.
Perth Glory under Nick Tana had a great relationship with local Perth associations, and Glory crowds in the NSL were bigger than in the A-League. The Northern Spirit copied Glory and also drew massive crowds. Newcastle teams under various names, especially pre-A-League, were also very close to the local association.
The player base is interesting, and if we compare the A-League to the AFL, NRL and domestic rugby union competition player bases some very fascinating facts emerge. The average across AFL, NRL and rugby union players to spectators of the local competition is in the order of 86 per cent.
Football, on the other hand, has a conversation rate of around 15 per cent player-to-A-League-watcher.
Last year a report said – and I am going from memory – around 60 per cent of the playing base doesn’t watch football and that of the 40 per cent who do only 30 per cent watch the A-League, which equates to 12 per cent, very much in line with earlier reports that said 15 per cent of the player base watches the A-League.
Perhaps the reason for the variation of between 15 per cent and 12 per cent is that as the ratings have fallen so too has the player base percentage.
Marketing folk talk of major brand establishment and of the need to get your key messages heard. Do you need a connection point that can be used to piggyback the key message to potential customers and clients in the case of sport fans?
Australian professional football has never tried in any real sense to connect to regional associations. In fact the distrust between regional associations and many former NSL teams was as toxic as anything we saw in the A-League to date at various times.
If we take an average size squad of, say, 14 players with subs and take 15 per cent of this, it’s a tad above two. Obviously this is not uniform across all teams, but on average only two players in a squad of 14 who play football actually watch the A-League.
Given local park teams are by and large run by volunteers with most, though not all, having a love of football – and add to that those in charge at the regional associations, who also mostly like football – it has always amazed me we don’t direct our marketing to the player base.
I hope the new management team move in this direction.