Revealed: The A-League Men season most impacted by COVID

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With COVID-19 still wreaking havoc on the A-Leagues, we take a closer look at the attendances of games from the past three campaigns to determine which season has been most affected by the pandemic.

When coronavirus officially arrived on Australian shores in late January 2020, it impacted revenue, television ratings, reduced player wages and workforce reductions.

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When the A-League Men was brought to a shuttering halt in late March 2020, the uncertainty proved a challenging time for players and fans alike.

“We had no idea if the league was going to start up again at all,” said Sydney FC captain Alex Wilkinson.

“And the longer it [the lockdown] went on, there was doubt about the broadcast deal with Fox and, you know, the type of revenue they put into the game.

“Then obviously, all of the player wages were cut, so it was definitely a very uncertain time for all the all the players, especially the ones who were coming off contract at the end of that year.”

When the competition eventually resumed in July of the same year, the 11 ALM clubs braced themselves for a new normal of living with the virus, along with the rest of the world. However, this would be at the expense of the high crowd numbers experienced earlier that very season.

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Perhaps the most telling factor in measuring the extent of COVID-19’s impact upon the ALM, attendances have fluctuated significantly from season to season primarily due to the initial nationwide lockdown in March 2020, Victoria’s four subsequent lockdowns, and the recent spread of the Omicron variant.

Through measuring the average attendance of ALM games from the last two completed seasons, as well as the ongoing 2021/22 season, we’ll see which of the three seasons got the least amount of fans through the gate.

2019/20 Season

Just before the world changed forever, the first 15 uninterrupted rounds of the 2019/20 ALM season saw a highly respectable average attendance of 10,081 per round.

Following the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in Australia from a returned traveller from China on January 25, 2020, as well as the first confirmed death from the virus on March 1, attendances began to steadily decline in the weeks that followed with the exception of rounds 18 and 22, which were saved by both Melbourne and Sydney derbies and a Big Blue, respectively.

Source: Ultimate A-League

Both the World Health Organisation’s official declaration of a pandemic on March 11 and the NSW Government’s cancellation of all major events of 500 people or more just four days later, however, saw attendances half in round 23 and the worst was yet to come.

A tumultuous six-day period between March 18 and 23 saw the entirety of round 24 played behind closed doors as the Federal Government announced strict social distancing measures, closing non-essential services and its borders to non-Australian residents. The A-Leagues indefinitely pulled the plug on the season on March 24, becoming the last professional league in the country to do so.

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When the season restarted on July 17, just ten days after Victoria were plunged into their second lockdown, 26 of the remaining 27 regular season matches were played in New South Wales, culminating in the lowest attended grand final in the league’s history.

Average Attendance: 7,126

 

2020/21 Season

The late start to the 2020/21 season on December 28 coincided with a three-week lockdown of Sydney’s northern beaches as well as Victoria’s border closure to New South Wales just nine days prior.

Source: Ultimate A-League

Following Victoria’s brief six-day lockdown in mid-February, the following rounds saw modest attendances across the competition as the COVID-19 vaccination program slowly rolled out across the country.

In early May, restrictions tightened across New South Wales after just one recorded case of the virus, before yet another Victorian lockdown beginning on May 27 saw Melbourne Victory’s round 23 and 24 matches played behind closed doors at AAMI Park, as well as Melbourne City’s clash with Newcastle Jets on June 10 relocated to an empty Netstrata Jubilee Stadium.

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Only one day after the eventual 107-day lockdown of Greater Sydney began, City defeated the Sky Blues in the grand final before just 14,007 fans at AAMI Park as the season aptly finished in time for a fifth Victorian lockdown beginning only two weeks later.

Average Attendance: 5,869

 

2021/22 Season

Thanks to a reasonably attended Sydney Derby on November 20, the 2021/22 ALM season kicked off with a respectable average attendance of 10,544 in the first round.

Source: Ultimate A-League

However, following the first detection of the Omicron variant in South Africa just four days later, as well as touching down in Australia on November 27, the following three rounds went ahead as scheduled but simultaneously saw a steep decline in average attendance.

As the new variant swept across the country, the round five fixture between Perth Glory and Brisbane Roar was postponed due to an outbreak in the Glory camp, as the mass postponement of fixtures throughout the league subsequently began.

Notably, rounds seven and eight alone saw five of its six originally scheduled fixtures put on hold following the outbreak of the variant.

The resulting backlog of unplayed fixtures has currently left each of the ALM’s 12 clubs making up for lost time and have had to resort to mid-week fixtures in most cases to avoid impacting future matches.

Average Attendance: 5,853*

 

The verdict

It’s a close one, but the ongoing 2021/22 season currently stands as the lowest attended season on average since the pandemic began.

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However, with an average of just 16 people separating it from the previous season, this is more than likely to change over the next 12 rounds, particularly as the spread of the Omicron variant continues to slow and attendances will likely improve in the weeks to come.

Feature Image Credit: Jordan Trombetta

Statistics sourced from Ultimate A-League

*Attendances are correct as of February 14, 2022.

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Jimmy Alexander
Jimmy Alexander
Covering Sydney FC for the 2021/22 A-League season. Studying a Bachelor of Sports Media (Journalism) at Charles Sturt University.

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