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My twitter feed on Tuesday morning was dominated by the news that Usain Bolt was possibly coming to the A-League, subject to a six-week trial and being offered a contract by Mike Mulvey at Central Coast Mariners. 

My initial thoughts

Well it’s a way to get some bums on seats. But more importantly how long will the bums on seats last? My guess is one game at best.

There are some people out there that will undoubtedly go to a game just to see Usain Bolt. But will these token fans turn into loyal members? Highly unlikely. Will any A-League clubs have the foresight to plan marketing strategies to try and convert these fair-weather fans into loyal fans? Also, highly unlikely. 

The marquee effect

We’ve seen spikes in attendances with the likes of Alessandro del Piero previously and there’s no doubt, big names bring fans that wouldn’t come otherwise.

However, there’s a big difference between Del Piero and Usain Bolt.

There’s no doubt Bolt will generate headlines and media coverage. We’ve seen that already with the announcement on Tuesday. But how long will that last?

There are ten other players that make up the team too. Surely it can’t always be about Bolt? Or maybe it will be and we will see Caltex become Boltex!

Or maybe we’ll see a giant sauce bottle turn into Bolt?! Or maybe Central Coast Mariners think Bolt will increase palm tree jersey sales. After all, Ronaldo going to Juventus saw Juventus sell 520,000 shirts in one day. So perhaps Bolt signing for Central Coast Mariners will help them sell three palm tree shirts instead of two! I’m joking by the way ... 

Is Bolt a good footballer? 

Jokes aside, whether Bolt can play football at a professional level remains to be seen. We all know he has incredible pace, but it would be interesting to see his maximum speed over 5, 10 or 20 metres. If Bolt is only a few kilometres per hour faster than a speedy attacking footballer over short distances, we have to ask whether Bolt really will add that much value? Yes - he is the world’s fastest over one hundred metres, but I can’t ever remember a footballer sprinting one hundred metres in a game. Can you? 

What about his football skills? Can he keep the ball? Can he dribble with the ball? Can he go past players with the ball at his feet at pace? 

Bolt, 31, has previously trialled with German club, Borussia Dortmund and Norewgian outfit, Stromsgodest, but both trials ended with no offer of a contract. Who knows though? Perhaps it will be third time lucky at Central Coast Mariners. 

What about authenticity? 

Personally, I go to games to enjoy the quality of the product. Seeing the news about Bolt made me more disinterested in the A-League than ever before (I already lost a fair bit of interest last season, but now I’m not in the slightest bit excited about the upcoming season).

Many loyal A-League fans follow football for its authenticity – so does signing the fastest man in the world shout genuineness? I don’t think so. It shouts gimmick and publicity stunt. Is this respectful to existing fans? I don’t think so. I think Zenon Carvella’s tweet sums up the idea perfectly.

So, genius strategy or disaster move? 

It’s definitely the latter for me. Signing a ‘celebrity’ to gain media interest and sell some tickets could be detrimental to the A-League. Not only is there a risk that current fans will become less interested (like me) but also potential new fans may be dissuaded by the celebrity first, football second message. 

There’s no genius strategy here. There is, however, more evidence of decisions being made by administrators who don’t understand the value of their world-class product, known around the world as the beautiful game.  


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Categories: Opinion | A-League

a-league, central coast mariners, usain bolt, #sportsbiz

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