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Opinion

Winter A-League survey: The results are in and not what you may have expected

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Expert
6th July, 2020
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If COVID-19 has taught us anything it is to be prepared for the unexpected. The pandemic has shown quite clearly that what at first may have seemed improbable, is in fact anything but.

Many around the globe probably agreed with a certain orange denier when he informed his constituents that 15 cases of the coronavirus in the United States would briskly become zero.

After all, we had heard about virus after virus over the years and most have had less impact on western countries than what was predicted, with initial fears usually proving to be overstated. However this time around, things were different.

The seriousness of what has occurred also presents scope for quirky solutions and the opportunity for change.

Something sports that have already recommenced in Australia have done; embracing rules changes, out of the box ideas and structural variations.

Now Australian football is rumoured, via the leadership of James Johnson at FFA, to be considering permanently moving its elite competition to the winter months.

With the remainder of the 2019-20 season forcibly pushed in the current winter, many now mount a case for a permanent shift back to an A-League schedule that begins in autumn and ends in the beautiful fresh warmth of early spring.

The proposition is met with both consternation and support, potentially the hottest topic in the domestic game right now and one with the most significant of ramifications.

As such, we sought your views on the matter in a four question Roar poll on the 22nd of June. The results were interesting and identified a clear division in opinion in regards to exactly when the A-League should take place and the potential effects of any change.

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Empty seats at the A-League.

Aaron Amadi-Holloway of the Roar. What does the future hold for the A-League? (Albert Perez/Getty Images)

When the near 400 respondents were asked the simple question of whether to keep the competition in the summer months or move the A-League into cooler temperatures, the results were near split with 54 percent supporting a change and 46 percent happy to leave things as they are.

Personally, I expected more of a landslide result, yet perhaps the responses to the second question said much about many people’s concerns in moving the league and taking on the other football codes head to head.

In answer to the question “Would a move to winter have a negative impact on attendance figures and thus the match day revenue of clubs?’, respondents obviously saw such an outcome as realistic and concerning.

In total, 25.7 percent of respondents felt attendance would drop dramatically, 34.7 percent felt there would also be a drop in numbers, yet less significantly and 31.9 percent saw crowds as remaining identical in the new time slot. A small minority (7.7 percent) felt A-League attendance would increase if matches were played through the cooler months.

Therefore, 60.4 percent of respondents believed a drop in attendance would be imminent.

Question three addressed the issue of pitch standards and the potential impact on the overall quality of the A-League product produced. Interestingly, 42.2 percent of respondents stated that the pitch quality would lessen in the wet and busier months and that the standard of play would indeed be affected.

34.7 percent also believed there would be some degradation in pitch quality yet felt there would be no difference in the overall product. Less than a quarter of respondents (23.1 percent) were convinced that there would be no change in the quality of surfaces due to the seasonal shift.

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The final question related to early perceptions of James Johnson’s performance in the top job at FFA. The results indicate strong support for him despite the challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

FFA CEO James Johnson

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

45.5 percent of people felt Johnson had made a terrific start to his tenure, with another 33.2 percent believing it is perhaps a little too early to form a full opinion and pass judgement.

Interestingly, 11.3 percent cited Johnson as having been slow off the mark in restarting the A-League competition and 10 percent felt the mooted move to winter was destined to be a retrospective error.

All in all, I was somewhat surprised by the strong voice resisting the move back to a predominately winter season and the dominant voice that believed a decline in pitch quality would be an automatic result of it.

Most surprising of all was a clear and majority belief that attendance figures would drop, either somewhat or drastically. Considering the recent document produced by FFA and its clear goal to reconnect with fans and engage them more fully, it appears a little odd that those in favour of moving the league would do so knowing full well that less people would attend it.

In addition, I also see curiosity in the fact that the chances of picking up casual television eyes during the winter months when other codes are in full swing would also lessen.

If a seasonal move for the A-League does indeed produce smaller crowds, no improvement in ratings and a decline in pitch quality that could lead to a less appealing product, I remain concerned that it may not be the right move for the A-League.

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