It is the most sobering of realities that just 39,595 people made their way through the gates to attend the six Round 3 A-League Men fixtures over the course of the weekend.
Anyone believing that that figure is acceptable is simply deluded and the numbers read very similar to those achieved in Round 2.
There was little or no excuse for attendances to be anywhere near as low as they were and excluding the 14,122 who attended AAMI Park in the hope of watching Victory extend their unbeaten run to three, the average crowd across the other five fixtures was a paltry 5094: a disturbing figure.
For years we have heard concerns around Australia’s excessive summer heat and it potentially being a key factor in keeping some fans away on scorching hot afternoons when twilight fixtures were held. However, in the current and unusual cool being experienced in many parts of the nation, such reasoning is completely moot when it comes to this season’s numbers.
Others might mount an argument that there is still something of a nervousness within the community and the need for more health confidence to exist before all and sundry return to matches.
Yet, the Matildas’ record crowd of 36,109 who filed into Accor Stadium in Sydney recently and the additional 20,495 who spent their hard earned to see the women’s national team tackle the USA in Newcastle a few days later, suggests that people are once again well and truly comfortable in attending football matches.
Sadly, that confidence and the desire to get out and return to the stadiums and venues to which we have been denied access for so long, does not appear to have brought fans of the A-League Men competition back through the gates and that fact should be of great concern to the owners.
The 2021-22 competition was launched on the back of a terrific television advertising campaign and there is no doubt Network Ten have thrown in everything bar the kitchen sink when it comes to committing to the long-term investment it has made in Australian football.
Both the men’s and women’s competitions have exciting new sponsors; companies that were no doubt convinced by the clear vision offered by the network and the potential advantages to their enterprises, and the long-awaited ability to stream all top-tier Australian matches has finally arrived via Paramount+.
There have been teething issues when it comes to the new way fans have been asked to consume their A-Leagues, however with most now ironed out, the general positivity around the digital side of the game has returned.
Aside from what still strikes me as a confusing new website – bizarrely titled ‘Keep Up’ – and all the challenges of recommencing the competition as the majority of host cities in it emerged from a second east coast lockdown, everything appears to have gone swimmingly.
Well, apart from the crowds, that is.
Sure, one cannot expect the Wellington Phoenix to be pulling large numbers in their home away from home of Wollongong. Yet, one could well have expected a few more Western Sydney fans to venture down the freeway and swell last Friday night’s attendance to something more than 1948.
On what looked a pretty decent afternoon for football, Moreton Daily Stadium lured just 6549 through the turnstiles on Saturday for the Roar’s clash with Adelaide.
The champions could do little better that evening, with just 7019 people arriving at AAMI Park to watch two Melbourne-based teams in what was certainly the most disappointing attendance of the weekend.
Sydney FC’s fan-base also raised its hand in contention. Just 6943 people braved what were admittedly chilly conditions on Saturday night at Kogarah, a venue very popular with the locals and one hosting a match that Sydney really needed to win to right the early season ship.
Potentially and contextually the best crowd of the weekend was the 3014 folks who turned up to watch the Bulls and Mariners at Panthers Stadium in Sydney, although a few more in yellow with the desire to travel down the M1 to Sydney’s west could perhaps have been expected.
Despite a 3-0 loss to Perth on Sunday night, the Victory fans can at least hold their heads high, with the team’s improved form potentially seeing their crowd figures grow as Tony Popovic manoeuvres them back into contention.
Ticket prices are no doubt still an issue and the financial ramifications of the lockdowns may still be having an impact on the ability of some working Australians to feel comfortable enough to spend a portion of their income on a game of football.
However, just three matches this season have drawn in excess of 10,000 people and attendances outside the fixtures that historically draw the bigger crowds appear well down.
Yes, the Wellington situation is undesirable and Western United and Macarthur FC are still growing a base, yet the general trend appears downwards and not what the A-League owners had hoped for when they ventured into the waters of autonomous control.