The Moot Point: It’s Time to work on the A-Leagues

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The recent Winter Festival of Football made many speculate that the success of this tournament would translate into a roaring success for upcoming the A-League Men.

Full marks for optimism but it’s still difficult to see how.

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Four English Premier League teams were here in Australia in recent weeks – Manchester United, Aston Villa, Leeds United and Crystal Palace – which in itself is a minor miracle. Crowds in Melbourne, Perth and Brisbane were especially privileged to catch these Premier League sides in full pre-season mode.

Sydney, Australia’s major city and premier destination for overseas tourists, missed out, but that’s a story for another day. What though was even more interesting was the sight of some of the overseas players holding a Sherrin AFL football.

It seems that football in some states of Australia is still AFL and if we are to get any sort of publicity, then a photo opportunity of an Premier League player holding a Sherrin is a must.

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Up against this is the A-League, which arguably endured it worst season since it started some 13 years ago. The metrics about last season don’t lie: crowd numbers were down, television ratings were abysmal, there was very little coverage in the mainstream media especially in the News Corp publications and matches were played concurrently making it difficult to watch. Talk about shooting ourselves in the foot.

So let’s re-set the whole thing this season.  A bit of marketing 101 would help. Promotion and advertising would be a starting point. Fans will attend if there’s good football on display which is fine for the ‘true believers’ but what about the casual fans and the young families to name a few?

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The Channel 10 coverage on a Saturday night is of an excellent standard but that’s one game out of six or 17%, so what happens to the other 83%? They can be streamed on Paramount+ which is very reasonably priced but the reality is that many household do not subscribe.

One could argue that the previous television deal with Fox Sports didn’t reach every household but their market penetration is certainly greater and that’s why both the NRL and AFL have contracts with them – also Fox Sports is shown in all the clubs around Australia while Paramount+ isn’t. One hates to admit it but it’s back to the Sherrin to learn some more. If it can’t be seen, it won’t be noticed and eventually it will lose relevance.

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Ticket prices? Totally inconsistent between clubs. Membership prices? A mathematics professor would struggle to work the best value and almost anything goes with each club having their own packages. So it’s pot luck there for families. This is where there needs to be a standardisation of prices and, more importantly, a real-value-for money style pricing. Perhaps copying the NSW Premier League where under 16s go free would be a good start in attracting families.

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Special rounds are non-existent whereas both the AFL and NRL have all sorts of ‘special rounds’: Women-in-League, Indigenous, retro jersey, charity beanie and Pride rounds to name but a few. Great causes and great social initiatives that links the brand to the cause creating a real feel-good factor. The A-League, which has a genuine men’s and women’s competition, needs to seriously pick up the pace here.

And, finally, double headers are essential. The fans need to be able to attend the same venue and see both the men’s and the women’s competition on the same day. Logistically it is difficult because the competitions are not equal in length and don’t have the same teams, but a greater effort needs to be made.

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However, having said all that and offered my gratuitous advice, it is still a wonderful domestic competition which is of the equivalent – if not a better standard – than many of the lower leagues in Europe. See you at a game and it all starts on October 7.

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Joe Russo
Joe Russo
Joe is a football supporter who accidentally fell into covering the great game. When he grew up it was called soccer but accepts the modern reality of football. After annoying editors, he was finally given the opportunity of contributing to the famous old paper Australian & British Soccer Weekly where he remained for 12 years. The rest as they say is history; Joe has featured on radio programs, websites, match day programs and Italian language publications covering the sport he loves. And, a quarter of a century later, he continues to chase the dream.

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