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Wasn’t that just the A-League season from hell? It may have been a perfect storm of problems, but it was one presided over by Football Federation Australia.

And with the game’s governing body busy trying to stave off the advances of FIFA and conducting open warfare with the ten A-League clubs and various state federations, the A-League was left to atrophy as an administrative afterthought. The results weren’t pretty.

Plummeting attendances, dire TV ratings and a host of problems with Video Assistant Referee technology made the 2017-18 A-League campaign a season to forget. And having been put on notice by just about every stakeholder in the game, FFA’s executives would do well to learn some lessons following what was a truly wretched campaign.

Here are five things the FFA simply must get right next season.

1.  VAR technology

Do we want it? No. Do we need it? Not really. Have we got it? Of course we do.

If football has taught us anything of late, it’s that the will of the fans counts for nothing when it comes to running the game. So it is that the FFA volunteered to trial Video Assistant Referee technology in the A-League, and then watched on impotently as it blighted a number of important matches.

Including – infamously – the grand final. Nothing screams ‘successful season’ quite like sending out a press release the day after the championship decider detailing why the winning goal shouldn’t have been allowed. And if the FFA are to avoid spoiling another season with incomprehensible VAR decisions, they need to figure out a way of communicating to fans inside the stadium and watching on TV precisely what is happening around video replays – and why. 

2.  Match-day scheduling

It should be the simplest aspect of the A-League, yet season after season the FFA makes an absolute dog’s breakfast of scheduling. 

There are a few different elements at play here – including the influence of host broadcaster FOX Sports and the fact that A-League clubs share multi-sports stadia with rival codes. Yet one of the biggest bugbears for A-League fans this season was the total lack of common sense on display around scheduling. 

From late kick-off times to playing the same opponent twice within the space of a few weeks to a ‘Summer Football Festival’ designed to take Big Bash League cricket head on – if only the FFA hadn’t neglected to advertise it – much more needs to be done around scheduling if the A-League is to avoid similar headaches at the gate next season.

3.  Ticket prices

And just on that, FFA aren’t entirely to blame for dwindling attendances. Faced with exorbitant stadium rental costs and an active supporter base that has been harassed out of the game, many clubs prefer the path of least resistance and simply pass costs on to the remaining loyal fans.

Casual ticket prices are often staggeringly high, while committing to the cause and buying a season ticket doesn’t represent much better value either. With sky-high ticket prices an obvious turn-off, the BBL has swooped and made the summer schedule its own.

If they have any sense, FFA should facilitate a more sensible discussion with clubs around ticket prices for next season.

4.  Free-to-air TV

Remember when David Gallop described moving the sole free-to-air fixture from SBS to Network Ten as “a win for football fans?” You have to wonder what he thinks about it now. 

After Gallop lauded Ten as a network “with a recent history of successfully covering major sport,” the A-League saw free-to-air ratings dip dramatically. Some fixtures had literally half the number of viewers watching on One compared to SBS 2, and the dismal ratings lasted the duration of the season.

The broadcast itself was nothing to write home about either, with One simply simulcasting Fox Sports’ broadcast – in Standard Definition. Now that Ten has lost BBL broadcast rights, it’s imperative FFA seeks an improved performance from its free-to-air air broadcaster if football is to receive any cut-through in the crowded summer marketplace.

5.  Marquee players

Ah yes, that old chestnut. Coaches hate them. Marketing departments crave them. But does the A-League need marquee players?

The answer – although the purists will deny it – is a resounding yes. Why? Because not enough of these purists are purchasing tickets to A-League games, or even watching them on TV. Which means the A-League desperately needs some big-name players to generate the sort of buzz that is going to sell enough tickets and corporate sponsorships to help pay the bills.   

And while A-League fans work themselves into a tizzy at the thought of Andres Iniesta heading to Australia – he’s off to Vissel Kobe, sorry guys – the fact is the competition desperately needs a player of Iniesta’s quality to help re-energise the A-League fan base and re-ignite some mainstream media interest in our flagging competition.


Categories: Opinion | A-League

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