A-League Men attendance woes set to continue with return of rival codes

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The disastrous attendances of the current A-League Men season, an indicator of the league’s declining relevance and due in part to Omicron and the recent floods, are likely to worsen with its three rival football codes now underway.

With the first bounce of the 2022 AFL season on Wednesday night, the ALM will officially have to co-exist once again with the premier Australian rules competition as well as the NRL and Super Rugby, whilst somehow having to win over fans in the process.

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Now having to compete for attendances nationwide along with its three rival codes, the ALM will arguably face its greatest challenge in Sydney where the NSW Waratahs in the Super Rugby and nine of the NRL’s 16 teams are situated, as are the AFL’s most supported club, the Sydney Swans.

The boardroom at Sydney FC will undoubtedly be reeling from the return of the AFL in the Harbour city this weekend as the code’s Sydney derby, contested between the Swans and GWS Giants on Saturday, will commence in Homebush just two-and-a-half hours before the Sky Blues’ encounter with Western United at Netsrata Jubilee Stadium.

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In truly frightening circumstances, the ALM’s most successful club will be competing with an AFL fixture which has attracted an average of over 36,000 people at Stadium Australia since the Giants’ inception in 2012. The derby similarly attracted a crowd of over 33,000 early last season at the Sydney Cricket Ground.

On the contrary, the ALM is currently in the midst of potentially its worst attended season in history, with its last 30 fixtures alone boasting an average attendance of just 4,131 people due to a fixture backlog being regularly played out on weeknights.

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The problem worsens at Sydney FC, who have cracked the 5,000 attendance mark on just one occasion at home since round five. Their most recent encounter in the NSW capital, a clash with league leaders Melbourne City, was played out in front of just 3,236 people.

With such poor attendances being undoubtedly caused by the pandemic and the recent flooding disaster, the concerning figures also point towards a declining interest in the league compounded by fans being left short changed, as well as a broadcast deal which has proved alienating for some.

In light of Macarthur FC’s notoriously high ticket prices from last season, recent postponements and the constant chopping and changing of ALM fixtures has only served to anger fans even more, as club owners and sponsors conversely try to navigate through the decreasing match-day revenue from the low attendances.

However, perhaps the most alienating factor for these already short-changed fans is the league’s new broadcast deal with Network 10, which currently sees five of its six regular season matches locked away on its streaming subsidiary Paramount+.

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Despite being a generally affordable streaming service with subscribers having to pay just $8.99 a month, the deal has ultimately limited the scope of potential viewers simply due to the fact that the league is no longer being broadcast on Fox Sports.

Under the previous broadcast deal, casual viewers who just happened to own the Foxtel sports package would have the opportunity to tune into the ALM at any time. This was a major win for the league, given the broadcaster’s residential subscriber count was reportedly 1.7 million at the end of last year.

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With the new Paramount deal, however, fans are forced to go out of their way and sign up to the new service, leaving the casual viewer in most cases reluctant to unlock the paywall.

This has been a likely contributor to the streaming service’s poor ratings experienced thus far in the season, and coupled with the measly attendances of recent weeks, undoubtedly leaves the languishing league and all of those involved sweating upon the co-existence of its three rival footballing codes.

Feature Image Credit: Daniel McGookin

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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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