4 points to help get the next A-League season pumping
A-League 2018-19: resurgence, disaster or a treading of water?01 August 2018 | Stuart Thomas
Former rep tennis player & golfer, former high school teacher & now full time sports writer
As the lungs of football fans around Australia take a huge breath, and we all catch up on some sleep after the nocturnal World Cup, a new domestic season approaches.
It will be a season to remember in one way, shape or form. Fundamentally, it will be the last time the league is played with ten licenced clubs after the latest decision to expand in 2019-20.
However, more complex questions surround promotion, attendance, VAR, marquee signings and the overall standard of football played on a week to week basis. In some of these areas we can be hopeful of improvement. Others, at this stage, loom as potential problems unless there is some frantic activity before kick off on October 19.
Here are my four points that need addressing to help make this A-League season a success.
1. Season launch and promotion
I’m not exactly sure of the appropriate time frame when it comes to launching a season and an advertising campaign to promote it. Whether it is days, weeks or months from kick-off, the timing will be decided by people with academic credentials in that area.
At least, I hope it will be. The recent promotional campaigns prior to A-League seasons have been low-brow, weak and failed to even create awareness let alone interest and excitement. As the AFL and NRL seasons wind down with just a few remaining teams involved in late September, football needs to be pro-active.
That period appears ripe for an aggressive marketing campaign. FFA claim to spread the budget across the entire season, yet hoping for more fans at matches is futile if they are unaware the game is actually taking place.
Whatever the ‘catchy’ slogan or concept happens to be for 2018-19, it needs to reach Australians via commercial television networks, newspapers and digital media far more effectively than it has in the past. The day I walk to my local bus stop and see an A-League poster in the shelter will be shocking and pleasing all at once. Do it, FFA.
Taking a cautious approach to marketing throughout September and October to avoid dilution in the winter codes finals’ series is flawed. Fundamentally because as soon as those seasons come to a close, the summers of cricket and tennis begin and football has new players with whom to compete for market share.
Attendance became a talking point over the festive period but as I revealed in a piece for Football Today in January this year, the A-League actually experienced an increase in attendance over that period. The Big Bash cricket took a hit and was pulling less fans than previous years yet nobody seemed to notice or care, or both.
Yes, A-League crowds were down on the season average, however, rugby league, cricket and rugby union were experiencing the same. The reasons are myriad. Scheduling, cost, public transport and lifestyle are combining to create a modern sporting fan that is very picky and precise about their expectations when it comes to spending their hard earned to attend matches.
Excellent match day ticketing deals, promotions and theme days, all supported by extensive advertising that creates community awareness is essential. Forget the ball tamperers and the ‘bash’; a focus on what football can do with the money at its disposal is strategically responsible and prudent.
3. Marquee signings
After the rather pre-emptive excitement around the prospect of Usain Bolt playing in the A-League, it is fair to have concerns about the talent lost during the off-season.
Johan Absalonsen and Daniel Adlung starred for Adelaide United. Massimo Maccarone was only solid in Brisbane but certainly drew attention with his pedigree, and Wout Brama was quality yet never really showed his best in the struggling Central Coast team.
The A-League’s greatest ever scorer Besart Berisha has departed for Japan; the Sydney trio of Bobo, Jordy Buijs and Adrian Mierzejewski all depart; and Alvaro Cejudo and Chris Ikonomidis leave space for the new recruits at the Wanderers.
There are many more; and whilst it is wonderful to see the returns of Craig Goodwin, Rostyn Griffiths, Nick Ansell, Matthew Spiranovic and Jason Davidson to our shores, and with all due respect intended, their names will not form part of the slick and extensive advertising campaign of which I spoke earlier.
Hopefully, a late flurry lures another big name or two in the coming weeks.
4. The football and VAR
What it all adds up to is the product on the pitch. A product often labelled as substandard by critics when compared with major leagues around the world. Personally, I felt season 2017-18 was superb. The dream run of the Jets, the resilience of MelbourneVictory, and the dethroning of Sydney all made for a dramatic season.
The standard will be similar this time around and those lured by advertising to attend matches will be impressed with the skills on display. The grey cloud lingering is the potential influence of the VAR, which, let’s face it, botched our biggest day in Newcastle.
I hope that FFA noted the effectiveness of the VAR in Russia and has taken steps to sharpen its use this season. Australian football has enough challenges on its plate without having to worry about a misused officiating tool.