Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Where's the crowds at?

There's a lot being said at the moment about A-League crowds. More specifically, about the fact that they are shrinking. It's true: attendences have slipped throughout the league this season, as this table (sourced from that fine research tool, Wikipedia) can attest:

Average attendance of A-League games excluding finals

After the giddy heights of last season, every single club has experienced a downturn in home crowds. True, attendances usually pick up at the business end of the season, but even so numbers are sitting lower at this point of the year than usual. So, what's the reason for the apparent drop in interest?

  • The standard of football is dropping.

Bollocks, it's much better now than it was when the A-League started. No more New Zealand Knights, for a start. Perhaps it's not quite Barcelona v Arsenal just yet, but it's only been a few years. Patience, my children.

  • Boring tactics.

This I agree with, partly. With only 8 sides, the same teams play each other three times a year, plus pre-season and finals matches. Teams know each other inside out, and the short season gives coaches little incentive to tinker with formations and tactics.

  • Over-control by the FFA.

The FFA have done great things for football in Australia, no question. But, while the highly centralised approach they have taken to the management of A-League clubs is exactly what was needed at the start of the league, it's actually becoming counter-productive to ongoing growth.

The FFA need to relinquish some control to the clubs themselves and allow them to build their own identities organically. Fans want their clubs to have some character; we want to feel like we are part of something that represents us, rather than being a 'target demographic' for a cookie cutter franchise.

One part of this is allowing clubs to take control of their own image with regard to advertising, kit design, merchandise, website design, and so on. It's also important that clubs have more say over dealings with their own supporters, rather than the FFA attempting to implement a one size fits all approach, as is the case with the ill-conceived 'Home End Membership' system.

Oh, and don't get me started on those awful phony CGI ads. The robots were better, and that's saying something. 90 minutes, 90 crappy mocked-up crowd scenes.

  • Crap refereeing.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: the refereeing in this league could certainly improve, but show me a league where this is not the case. I think it's not too bad, on the whole. Who'd be a ref.

There's a whole host of other issues I could touch on: the global economic downturn, ongoing lack of free to air TV coverage (although Fox Sports ratings are up for the league), dire form of Sydney FC, Queensland Roar's Suncorp curse, World Cup-mania drying up, retirement of Richie Alagich, et cetera - there is no single reason for the drop-off in crowds this year.

Basically, the A-League is going through the same flat spell that other start-up leagues like the J.League and MLS have gone through after their first few years, before continuing on their upward trajectory. Football is very well positioned in Australia, and the introduction of North Queensland and Gold Coast next season, and two further teams the season after, will counteract some of the apparent staleness that has crept into the league. The future's still looking good.

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