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The APL is doomed to fail until it starts focusing on football

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Expert
21st January, 2024
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At the end of yet another tumultuous week for the A-Leagues, it was easy to forget there was a round of football being played – something the APL seems to do every single week.

Perhaps it was fitting that a largely forgettable round of A-League Men action ended in front of an empty stand scorched by an oppressively hot summer sun on Sunday afternoon.

Kick-off was pushed back to 6pm local time for the ALM clash between the Central Coast Mariners and Melbourne City on Sunday, but it was still around 36 degrees Celsius when the game got under way.

The match itself was hardly forgettable, with Angel Torres scoring a dramatic late winner in his side’s 2-1 victory before his Mariners teammate Storm Roux was sent off for his part in a bench-clearing brawl – despite having already been substituted.

It was just everything else around the game – from the empty stand on the TV side of the broadcast, to the multiple drinks breaks to counter the oppressive heat – that made the clash tough to watch.

It also pushed back the A-League Women’s fixture to an 8:45pm kick-off on what was supposed to be a family-friendly double-header.

The bundling together of the men’s and women’s leagues – while well-intentioned – has regularly inconvenienced fans of both competitions this season.

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It’s true that A-League Women’s fixtures have enjoyed a spike in attendances, but that’s coming off an extremely low base, not to mention a hugely successful Women’s World Cup.

It’s been the inability to grow the game in every other key area that has alarm bells ringing – and which resulted in the Australian Professional Leagues making up to 40 of their staff redundant last week.

Job losses are never something to celebrate.

But if the reports are true the APL is set to axe digital arm KeepUp after only a couple of seasons, having burned through a reputed $40 million on the website and app, then serious questions must be asked of the APL’s leadership.

Plenty will point the finger at Danny Townsend – the chief executive who sold grand final hosting rights to Sydney, failed to secure a European opponent for his ‘festival of football,’ then ultimately absconded to Saudi Arabia.

Danny Townsend speaks during a Sydney FC media opportunity

Former Australian Professional Leagues Chief Executive Danny Townsend stepped down in October of 2023. (Photo by Mark Evans/Getty Images)

But the whispers around the game are that Townsend wasn’t acting alone, and there appears to be growing disquiet around the pernicious influence of the City Football Group.

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There’s no doubt the A-Leagues are hard-up for cash.

It’s just hard to imagine exactly where the tens of millions of dollars that have supposedly been invested into the game have been spent.

It’s easier to pinpoint where things have gone wrong.

“APL is a digital sports entertainment holds the exclusive and perpetual right to operate, market, and commercialise the top-tier professional domestic football competitions in Australia,” reads Silver Lake’s portfolio blurb on the APL.

Nope.

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The APL should be the governing body for our professional football leagues – one that focuses on decisions that benefit football and the fans who pay to watch it.

Yet in the endless quest to chase mythical fans that either don’t exist or have no intention of ever setting foot inside an A-League stadium – from casual fans to Eurosnobs – the APL has alienated the only supporters it actually had.

The A-Leagues’ unique selling point is atmosphere inside the stadiums – something that has been diminished time and again by a series of administrators who simply don’t understand what makes football fans tick.

Maybe it’s too late to save the A-Leagues.

But if the APL wants to try, they should start by focusing on football.

Talk to fans. Fix the schedule. End the obsession with the Sydney and Melbourne markets.

(Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

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In short, run proper football competitions.

Because all the focus on ‘digital strategies’ and ‘sports entertainment’ has failed.

And unless the rest of the APL wants to follow their unfortunate colleagues out the door, they need to change tack and start appealing to the only demographic they’ve got left – actual football fans.

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