At what expense? The A-League’s attendance dilemma and how to stop it

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At nib Stadium on Saturday night, with no other sporting code to compete with, the undefeated and top of the table Perth Glory played Melbourne City in front of a measly crowd of 8,489.

It was Glory’s worst home attendance of the season so far, and two thousand below their highest home attendance for 2018/19.

The poor attendance figures could be explained by extortionate ticket prices, but as far as ticket sales go around the league, Glory aren’t the only ones taking their fans for a ride.

So, which fans pay the most to see their side in action?

The table above shows prices for the cheapest adult memberships (in non-active supporter seating) of each A-League club, and the equivalent prices of tickets that can be purchased for single matches.

Sydney FC, splitting their home games across three grounds this season – Jubilee Stadium, Leichhardt Oval and the SCG – offer the most expensive season tickets to their members by a long shot.

The Sky Blues have separate packages for each stadium, and the three cheapest memberships at each stadium combine to average $30.77 per match.

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Newcastle Jets and Wellington Phoenix offer the league’s best membership pricing by far; an adult Jets member can see all 13 home games this season for an average of $13, while the Phoenix offer their adult members 14 home games at an average of $12.07 per game.

What’s important to note, however, is the discrepancy between membership ticket prices and the prices offered to punters on game day, and from the graph above there are some prime culprits.

The difference between membership and match day price at the Wanderers is a whopping $20.84, with Glory, Mariners, Newcastle and Victory charging fans more than $16.00 above the average membership price for a single ticket.

The reason pricing difference is important to note is that for most A-League clubs the majority of people in attendance are the club members, and what’s severely lacking is the presence of fans buying one-off tickets.

Here we can see in most cases, barring the bizarre case of the Wanderers’ average home attendance this season being half of their actually membership amount, is that the average attendance of each team is either below, or slightly higher than the amount of members they currently have, which is a worrying sign.

Members of our clubs are deservedly rewarded with discounted tickets as they are of the upmost importance; in a cash-stripped league members matter more than in the big leagues around the world where club revenue is mainly gained from TV deals and commercials.

Rewarding members for their commitment to the league is something we’ve got right.

What we’ve got wrong, however, is how much to charge the rest of the fans – the casual fans, the bandwagon fans, the ‘I’m bored, what’s on tonight’ fans – the fans who sit on their couch on a Saturday afternoon and ask friends and family whether they want to go watch some football.

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On their way off the couch, the price appears on their screens and they calculate whether two hours of A-League football is worth 30 to 40 of their hard earned dollars.

Realistically, it isn’t – so they sit back on the couch and make other plans.

These are the fans we need to target to get through the gates and build genuine fan bases league-wide.

Cheaper tickets combined with more fans will equal similar revenue and larger crowds – does it really take a rocket scientist to work that out?

Take the Jets as a prime example of how this can work.

In 2017/18 the Jets froze their membership prices from the season before at $160 for an adult member, and also ranked amongst the clubs charging the least for single match ticket purchases.

The Jets made the grand final, and as the hype train left the station and soared into the finals, so did their attendances.

In the year before the Jets had the third-lowest total attendance in the league with 112,380 across the season, with a highest attendance of 11,873 for a single game.

One year later, when they stormed into the finals, they had the third-highest attendance in the league at 200,959 across the season – nearly 100,000 higher than 16/17 – with a highest attendance of 29,410 for a single game, a club record.

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A genuine fairy-tale story with the numbers to match, the Jets of 17/18 proved that cheaper tickets and red-hot form gets bums on seats and turns those who check the scores on their phones at the end of the round to those in the front row yelling till their throats creak.

I’ll say it again: cheaper tickets + more fans = similar revenue and larger crowds.

It’s the simple equation that amounts to more fans having a day out of genuine value for their money.

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Matthew Comito
Matthew Comito
Football nut, student journalist and firm believer that Berisha dived in the 2012 A-League Grand Final. Covering Perth Glory for the 2018/19 season.

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