On Saturday, a total of 7,676 people turned up to Leichhardt Oval to watch two in-form A-League teams.
The weather was perfect, the pitch in decent nick and both Sydney FC and Melbourne City had the opportunity to position themselves second on the ladder and be ready to pounce on any Central Coast Mariner slip ups.
All in all, there was plenty on offer for A-League fans and despite a tasty Saturday night timeslot and Australians slowly gaining in confidence when it comes to getting out and about and attending events as frequently as they did prior to the pandemic, the crowd was very disappointing.
Almost certainly there are still many people playing things safe when it comes to social outings and that may well be the case for some time to come, yet there appeared to be no other obvious reason as to why the champions of Australia managed to lure such a paltry number to the ground for a match against the side they defeated in the grand final last season.
Or was there?
With both the NRL and AFL having taken massive swings at the rules which govern their games and the resulting product currently pleasing the majority of fans, the uncomfortable question about football’s potentially silent winter existence does need to be addressed.
As other codes head into the core of their seasons in the winter months, the buzz around both grows. Off the back of some brilliant games and returning fans starved of safely and confidently attending matches throughout much of 2020, both competitions appear to be humming along well.
That raises a fair question. Is the issue around which so many football and A-League fans raised concerns now happening tangibly right before our very eyes?
If so, has it taken just a month for the A-League to prove to itself that competing in the flooded winter sporting market is not something worth pursuing?
Historically, the A-League season would be in or on the brink of semi-final mode. However, thanks to the agility required to complete the 2020 season last August and the New Year kick off to this current campaign, Football Australia set the game up for one of its sternest tests by slating the bulk of the A-League season up against 15 or so weeks of NRL/AFL action.
Of course, FA had little option after such a long break in play last year. However, crowd figures shout a prophetic and clear message to the powers at be, especially considering just how entertaining, unpredictable and exciting the 2020/21 A-League competition has been.
At this point, concerns around the league losing space in the public’s attention appear to have been right on the money and the dumping of football content from the sports’ sections of both hard and soft copy publications has been potentially even more noticeable than prior years.
I’d hazard a guess that passionate A-League fans who always attend their team’s matches are continuing to do so. What I would also suggest is that many others who once attended the odd match throughout the summer may well be down at the MCG or at a suburban NRL ground watching their number one code.
Some will say, “Who cares? We don’t need those people.”
Frankly, I find that naïve and feel the competition needs every possible bum on a seat. If playing a larger portion of the season in winter removes thousands of cheeks from seats, shrinks media coverage and lessens the overall awareness of A-League football, a decision on an immediate move back to a spring/summer/autumn time slot needs to be made ASAP.
Sure the weather has been pleasant for spectators, yes the standard of play has been excellent at times. Yet what value are either when fewer fans are in attendance observing the improved entertainment and the overall face of the league is somewhat veiled?
Better scheduling through November, December and January can ease the burden of what have been historically unbearable conditions at times.
Fans also need to remember that much of October, November, March, April and May present excellent viewing weather and suffering through the blistering heat of the three warmer months may well be a necessary evil if the current situation is an accurate guide.
That current situation is twofold. Firstly, A-League content is still very good, yet attracting even less people than it has in the past. Secondly, the two winter powerhouses are up and running with new products and fans are flocking to see them.
Concerns that the A-League becomes nothing but a blip competing against them in winter were well made and now, appear to have been valid.