A-League fans will never be sold on Asian expansion

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Perth Glory owner Tony Sage has dreams of A-League expansion into Asia, but whether or not he manages to sell the concept to the league, the fans will never buy it.

Speaking on The Layman’s Podcast last week Sage outlined the landscape of his ideal A-League: a 16-team league, with 12 from Australia and the remaining four spread across a handful of Asian countries.

“We’ve got 300 million people directly to our north that are football mad in Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and Philippines,” Sage said.

“I can’t see why you shouldn’t start the conversation and that’s what I’ve done, and say ‘let’s have a team in Jakarta, let’s have a team in Singapore, let’s have a team in Malaysia.’

“Whether we call it the A-League or the Asian League, who knows?”

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Behind Sage’s vision is the motivation to grow the viewership of the league to increase the size of the broadcasting deals, ensuring more revenue for each club in the league.

“We’ll have 300 million extra viewers from those four countries, now how much money is that going to bring in broadcast rights?” He said.

Sage’s concept is flawed by his presumption that the millions of football-loving fans in Asia would not only tune in to a league predominantly filled by Australian clubs, but do so at the expense of the already established professional leagues in their respective countries.

All four countries Sage named as potential suitors as expansion destinations for the A-League have their own top-flight professional league. The success of an A-League side in any of these nations would hinge on the fans buying into the new team and competition while turning their back on their own league.

But that’s not the only problem.

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At the same time we’d be asking fans of the A-League to welcome the change. It simply wouldn’t happen. How could we cultivate rivalries between the Central Coast and Singapore? Between Jakarta and Adelaide? How do you market an A-League grand final between a team from Malaysia and Philippines?

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These are the questions which expose the impracticality of Asian expansion. It’s a commercially viable concept until you factor in the human side of football, and a venture into the Asian market would leave fans of the A-League scratching their heads wondering what the point is of being a part of it.

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Regardless Sage is determined to make the Asian experiment a successful one, firstly by dipping his toes in the pool as he prepares to make a dive.

“To appease me they’ve (FFA) given me permission to play one game a year in Asia, so we’re investigating – only investigating at this stage – whether we (Glory) can host one of our home games next year in either Kuala Lumpur or Singapore,” Sage said.

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“We’d be a great test case to see what sort of crowd we get, and what sort of TV numbers we get up there and back in Australia.

“I’ve had a talk to Central Coast, they’d love to do it, and Brisbane.

“I think it’s worth trying, I’ve let Tony Pignata (Glory CEO) know what I want and he has to now go and deliver and get a game up there.”

Following passionate response from fans across social media upon hearing Sage’s revelation, Pignata was quick to confirm although the club were looking into it, a game in Asia next season is unlikely.

If eventually successful Glory’s venture into the Asian market could open the pathway for Sage’s ultimate goal of an Asian/Australian league.

But with the impossible task of making the league palatable for both A-League fans and the fans of the established leagues in the targeted nations, it’s a concept that will never be worth more than the money it makes.

Quotes courtesy of The Layman’s Podcast

Feature image credit: Darren Speedie, Vision Inspired Photography

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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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