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It happened before... Can an improved A-League grow and match the NRL's crowd numbers?

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Roar Guru
10th October, 2023

After last season’s low crowds, it seems like a herculean task for the A-League to attempt to match the average crowds of the NRL.

But when you break things down, it may not be impossible.

To begin, you have to look at where each league currently stands. Although it is important at the start to note that the direct comparison between them isn’t completely helpful, when by international standards the A-League is in the top 20 top flight leagues globally when its crowds are good. Nonetheless, the gap between them is used to put down the A-League which in turn affects perceptions of it that aren’t good for the code, which is why it still matters.

Fabio Gomes celebrates a goal for Sydney FC. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

With that out of the way, let’s look at the A-League. The average league attendance last season was just 7552, which is low. The results per club excluding finals, were as follows:

  1. Sydney FC = 17008
  2. Western Sydney Wanderers = 10769
  3. Adelaide United = 10359
  4. Melbourne Victory = 10124
  5. Central Coast Mariners = 6646
  6. Melbourne City = 6481
  7. Wellington Phoenix = 6333
  8. Newcastle Jets = 6152
  9. Brisbane Roar = 5629
  10. Perth Glory = 4451
  11. Macarthur FC = 3514
  12. Western United = 3168

Just four teams broke the ten thousand barrier. Sydney just broke 17000 which is good, but the next team behind them was still a long way back with 10769 for Wanderers. Adelaide had a good season and did reasonably well for attendance, but Victory only just breaking 10000 was well below where they should be. The Mariners were next with 6646, but again it was another big drop from the team ahead of them.


Melbourne City, despite both silverware and good on field performance over several seasons, Socceroo stars, derbies, a central location with good transport links in a city of five million and City Football Group behind them, couldn’t even break the 6500 mark.

There may be nothing that can help them.

Phoenix and Jets were the only other teams in the 6000 plus club, followed by Roar with 5629. Then you get to the final three who were all below 5000 each. Glory, in a city of 2 million all to themselves only got 4451, while Macarthur and Western got 3514 and 3168 respectively.

Time to fold the league? No, not quite.

Now that we’ve seen the A-League results, it’s time to look at the NRL side of things.

A list from 2019, the last season before covid hit, with high numbers from magic round in Brisbane and low numbers during regional matches removed contains some interesting results. The numbers for each club are as follows:

1. Brisbane Broncos = 29,516
2. Parramatta Eels = 21,202
3. Newcastle Knights = 19,053
4. Melbourne Storm = 16,104
5. Sydney Roosters = 15,720
6. Canberra Raiders = 15,298
7. Wests Tigers = 13,922
8. New Zealand Warriors = 13,785
9. North Queensland Cowboys = 13,658
10. South Sydney Rabbitohs = 13,311
11. Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs = 13,165
12. Penrith Panthers = 12,619
13. Cronulla Sharks = 12,224
14. Manly Sea Eagles = 11,216
15. Gold Coast Titans = 11,085
16. St. George Dragons = 10,557


This gives you a league average of 15152, lower than the A-League’s best season back in 2007-08 (15348), while the 2019 before covid hit had 10877. A little before that, in the 2014-15 season was 13048 which isn’t far off the NRL.

Adelaide’s Panashe Madanha. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

Looking closer at the NRL, the average attendance in Sydney was 13637 compared to 16285 outside of Sydney. In fact, Sydney teams made up six of the bottom eight teams. This is in Rugby League heartland with plenty of derbies no less.

Here are the A-League numbers per club back in the 2007-08 season, excluding finals:

Melbourne Victory = 26064
Queensland Roar = 16951
Sydney FC = 16373
Newcastle Jets = 13209
Central Coast Mariners = 12738
Adelaide United = 12697
Wellington Phoenix = 11,683
Perth Glory = 7596

The trend is going back up again. Here are the figures per season excluding finals over the last six seasons:

2018/19 = 10423
2019/20 = 8726 (Western United enter)
2020/21 = 5595 (Macarthur enter)
2021/22 = 5353
2022/23 = 7553


If last season’s increase of 2200 on the year before can be repeated, then the league average excluding finals will go up again to 9753 which is above where it was before Western United and Macarthur entered.

It’s still a long way behind the NRL league average, but it looks like it’s going in the right direction again. The NRL attendances are larger than the A-League right now, but they’re not impossible to match. So where can improvement be made?

Sydney FC are fine, but could do better. Hopefully if other teams lift, Sydney will too. Wanderers need to continue recovering, but at least the worst seems to be over.

Adelaide need to continue to have good results, while Victory really need to do some work. Defending champions Central Coast will also need to have a good season, which they hopefully will.

Reno Piscopo of the Jets

Newcastle’s Reno Piscopo. (Photo by Ashley Feder/Getty Images)

City? It seems like nothing can help them. They had absolutely everything going for them while Victory were at a low point. Quite frankly, they should have beaten them on attendance. All I can think of is taking a few games to a temporary ground in Dandenong to build their support there. Relocation may be necessary long term.

Wellington will have a derby soon. Maybe that’ll help. But if they lose players to Auckland they could sink further and may even go under.


Jets, Roar and Glory all need to get things together on the ownership side. But having Ballymore as an option could help Roar as they recover.

Western United will hopefully get a boost by playing where they are actually based for once. Let’s see how they actually go before we pass final judgement.

But finally, Macarthur FC may be on the move to Liverpool up the road. The mayor has been in talks with both Wests Tigers and also Macarthur FC to get both teams to move to the area, in order to lobby the state government to build a new 20,000 seat stadium. Campbelltown isn’t well located or attractive for fans from outside areas to come into. But Liverpool is more central. The government are open to the idea and it looks like it may be serious this time.

If Macarthur relocates to Liverpool, then this could bring their attendances up, especially if it creates a bigger rivalry and therefore a bigger derby with Wanderers. By moving further into Wanderers territory, it’ll be sure to get a reaction.

Watch this space.