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Opinion

Are we okay with the A-League Men becoming a made-for-TV competition?

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Expert
3rd April, 2022
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At the same time many of us were watching one of the most enthralling A-League games of the season, a sizeable proportion of viewers were watching a completely different fixture.

Why did the Sydney Derby and Adelaide United’s clash with arch-rivals Melbourne Victory kick off at the exact same time on Saturday night?

To help streaming provider Paramount+ sell subscriptions aimed at recouping the cost of the $200 million, five-year broadcast deal parent company ViacomCBS signed last May.

You’d think that point would be self-evident, yet a quick perusal of social media on any given matchday suggests the majority of A-Leagues fans don’t understand why fixtures keep kicking off simultaneously.

So why doesn’t the Australian Professional Leagues explain it to them?

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What is the point of the KeepUp website if not to provide insight into how the A-Leagues are being run?

And if it’s a commercial decision to play four games on Saturday and zero games on Friday, should we assume the broadcast deal is working to plan and subscription numbers are growing week-on-week?

We’ve heard a lot this season about how COVID-19 has wreaked havoc with the fixture list, and it’s clear the APL is trying to squeeze in as many fixtures in as short a time as possible.

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It’s led to anomalies like Brisbane Roar recently playing four home games in a row, while marquee fixtures against clubs like Melbourne City and Sydney FC – that would have drawn big crowds in Redcliffe – are scheduled for weeknights.

And the APL might look at the 10,091 fans at the Sydney Derby, or the 8044 fans who turned out in Adelaide, or the 5463 fans who watched Brisbane Roar’s win over the Newcastle Jets, or the 2357 who turned up on Sunday night to see Macarthur come from behind to beat Perth Glory, and say attendances no longer matter.

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A $200 million broadcast deal, coupled with the $140 million private equity firm Silver Lake recently invested into the A-Leagues, means football’s domestic future is financially secure.

Yet anyone who watched Celtic down Rangers in the Old Firm Derby on Sunday night, or Leipzig stun Borussia Dortmund, or any of the assortment of packed-to-capacity English Premier League games over the weekend, would have realised another obvious point.

A big part of the reason so many of us tune into fixtures across the globe is to see fans packing the stands.

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And by retrofitting so much of this A-League Men season around broadcast schedules, the APL runs the real risk of producing a made-for-TV product that no one wants to watch because there’s no atmosphere coming from the stands.

Which is ironic, because Saturday night’s Sydney Derby was one of the games of the season.

Trent Buhagiar of Sydney FC takes a shot on goal

(Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

Hats off to Trent Buhagiar for putting a season of questionable finishing behind him to register a brace in Sydney FC’s exhilarating 3-2 win over the Wanderers.

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I’ll be the first to admit though, that watching in real time, I thought James Donachie gave away a penalty when Tomislav Mrcela hit his arm inside the penalty area with only minutes to go.

Evidently referee Alireza Faghani believed Donachie’s arms were by his side, but it’s hard to believe it didn’t warrant a closer look from the Video Assistant Referee when we’ve seen lesser infractions receive far greater scrutiny.

I didn’t see Melbourne Victory’s 1-0 win over Adelaide United as I was watching the Sydney Derby, but I watched Brisbane Roar’s 2-0 win over the Newcastle Jets on Paramount+ because I’ve been stuck in quarantine all week.

It was great to see a couple of youngsters in Henry Hore and Luke Ivanovic put their hand up and take some responsibility for the goals the home side so badly needed to score.

But it would be nice to see a few more fans in the stands across every ground.

This season might be considered a write-off, but it’s going to take a bit more imagination than just driving fans towards a streaming service to get the A-Leagues back on track.

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