What can be done to ‘save’ the A-League?
When it comes to an independent A-League, are we at the stage where we've got nothing to lose and everything to gain?26 March 2018 | Bonita Mersiades
We will all have a chance to breathe a sigh of relief tonight when one of Australia's favourite national sport teams - if not the favourite now - the Matildas, meet Thailand in an international friendly ahead of the Asian Cup tournament that gets underway in Jordan.
The Matildas will help us forget the disappointment of the Socceroos performance against Norway, as well as ignore the other major disappointment that has been unfolding before us - the A-League.
This is not about what goes on on-the-field. There will always be vigorous differences of opinions and healthy debate about whether the quality is good, bad or indifferent. As our poll showed on this issue recently, 94% of respondents thought it was 'about the same' (as last year) or 'better'.
It is about off-the-field, specifically attendance, and what more can be done by A-League Central (FFA) and the A-League clubs to get more bums on seats (crowd) or eyes on screens (viewers).
Last weekend saw 33,053 people attend games, an average of 6,610 per game - the eighth lowest round average in A-League history. Of the other low rounds 'ahead' of that figure, four occured in the 2010-11 season when two regional teams (North Queensland Fury and Gold Coast United) were in an 11-team competition; and the remaining three occured when the competition was still eight teams.
This figure for round 24 is despite the fact that every single game had an interesting competitive factor that deserved attention. For example:
- Could Newcastle Jets keep their winning run going and seriously challenge Sydney FC?
- When would Adelaide live up to their obvious class on the pitch with a win, rather than a disappointing draw?
- How would Central Coast Mariners fare after their coach just up-and-left?
- Could Sydney FC reverse their relative form slump?
- What impact would the loss of a major sponsor have on the Western Sydney Wanderers, if any?
- Could they finally get a win in Melbourne?
- How will the cashed-up City Football Group react at the end of the season if Melbourne City fail to win another game, despite promising so much?
- Is Daniel Arzani ready for the Socceroos?
- Will Wellington Phoenix finally give their most loyal supporters a win?
- Brisbane Roar wants to win four consecutive games to maximise their finals chances. Could they do it?
- Melbourne Victory are on a roll and want to make third position their own, but Perth Glory are always tough at home and pushing for the finals themselves.
The players delivered also, scoring 18 goals at an average of 3.6 goals per game.
However, such is the level of disengagement with the A-League at the moment that apparently none of the factors outlined above (and there are many more) were sufficient to motivate more people to attend a match. In terms of viewership, Media Week data show that 30,000 people watched the Central Coast Mariners v Sydney FC clash, and 29,000 the Melbourne City v Western Sydney Wanderers clash.
With FIFA/AFC expected to declare the composition of the FFA Congress Review Working Group before Easter, many believe change at the top within FFA Board and management can't come quickly enough.
The Working Group is tipped to comprise either five or seven people including an independent chairperson. On a seven person model, it is likely to be three state federations, two A-League clubs, and one PFA representative or 2-1-1 if the FIFA Member Associations Committee signs-off on a five-person model. Our sources suggest that newer groups such as AAFC, the coaches' association and Football Supporters Australia are not likely to be included in the Working Group - not least because of heavy lobbying against their inclusion by the PFA and some state federations - although AAFC is to be included in discussions. The Congress Review Working Group is tasked with agreeing a new Congress structure for FFA to suit legal timelines consistent with FFA's Constitution and (Australian) statutory requirements.
FootballToday.news supports an independent A-League operating under license to FFA as a matter of principle. It would also help bring the management of the professional competition in line with models used around most of the football world.
The issues set out by the A-League clubs under the banner of the Australian Professional Football Clubs Association are clear, valid and sound.
The question is will it make a difference? The answer may well be - particularly mindful of this weekend's eighth lowest crowd in A-League history and the general decline this season in 'bums and eyes' - what have we got to lose?
a-league, ffa congress, governance