Why A-League crowds are so poor

“How would you sell the A-League to someone who has never watched it before?” That question was broached to me a couple of weeks ago while watching the Central Coast Mariners and Melbourne Victory play out a dull draw in front of an uninspiring Sunday night crowd. The question was easily retorted with “it’s an alternative to other codes in Australia. For casual fans it’s a sport to get behind while waiting for the NRL and AFL to return. But that’s not an answer I believed in. Because it’s not entirely correct. For the first seven rounds the A-League has been played in front of poor crowds with derbies and big rivalries being the exceptions. But why is that?

Scheduling
Probably the biggest issue in Australian football in regards to attendances. If Western Sydney or Sydney FC play Central Coast or Newcastle or vice versa on a Friday night, it could be difficult for fans to travel to that match with traffic, public transport, and work to consider.

DON’T PLAY GAMES ON THURSDAY NIGHT! That should be the general rule when the draw is being written up. The Mariners played Adelaide in front of 5,073 people last Thursday, the lowest crowd of the season. Due to Supercars being in Newcastle this week they will face Melbourne Victory at McDonald Jones Stadium on a Thursday night. The penultimate night of the working week should not A-League games. It’s a school night so parents won’t want their kids up  at 9.30-10pm, and adults have work in the morning, so it loses the demographic of fans that go to the football to have a few beers with their mates.

Western Sydney won’t be back at Spotless Stadium due to BBL side Sydney Sixers having exclusive rights to the stadium through the duration of the BBL07 season. This means they will have to play home matches at ANZ Stadium. While it’s literally next door so won’t ruin any travel plans (though getting there on public transport is a chore), ANZ Stadium is a big game stadium, it should be saved for World Cup qualifiers, the Sydney Derby, State of Origin, and NRL Grand Finals. Having regular season matches removes some of the atmosphere. In a stadium that fits 80,000 it doesn’t look pretty when 10-15,000 rock up.

A-League clubs should be more vigilant when it comes to scheduling. Concerts, festivals, other sporting events are known well ahead of time for the most part. Clubs could easily request for an away match when there is a conflict such as Supercars.

The Saturday night time slot is brilliant, but should be reserved for big teams and big matches. Melbourne Victory have played three matches at 7.45pm, a Big Blue Grand Final replay in Round 1 (24,804), a Melbourne Derby (35,972), and their match against Brisbane (18,098). Sydney FC also had their biggest crowd of the season with 34,810 people coming out for the Sydney Derby.

Memberships
Memberships should give us a good look at how many fans are going to show up to a game, but that’s not always the case.  Members don’t have to attend every match and some memberships offer flexibility for those who can’t. At the time of writing here are the membership figures according to the A-League’s official site:

  • Melbourne Victory – 25,510
  • Western Sydney Wanderers – 16,944
  • Sydney FC -13,405
  • Melbourne City – 10,381
  • Newcastle Jets -8421
  • Brisbane Roar – 8281
  • Perth Glory -7695
  • Central Coast Mariners – 6635
  • Adelaide United – 6543
  • Wellington Phoenix -5170

However only Adelaide, Brisbane, Perth, and Wellington have had a higher attendance than members in every home game so far this season. Central Coast and Newcastle have done it twice, while surprisingly both Melbourne clubs and Sydney FC have only achieved this one, and Western Sydney, the second highest memberships in the league, are yet to have their 16,444 members attend a match.

Again, not all fans can make every game, however the membership figures should be close to attendance figures, especially for the bigger clubs.

Central Coast had by far their biggest crowd of the season on the opening day against Newcastle Jets, whose members were awarded free entry despite it being an away match. Sure an offer like this would see a loss of money in ticket sales but if it gets more crowds through the gates that can only be a good idea that should be spread throughout the league.

For those wondering, it’s the Perth Glory who are getting the highest attendances despite having the fourth lowest membership tally in the league. Their crowds this season have been 11,049, 12,167, and 13,565.

Attractions
When Alessandro Del Piero, Harry Kewell, David Villa, and Tim Cahill came to the league fans flocked just to see those players. Casual fans, and even a lot of the diehards don’t know Marcin Budzinski and Adrian Mierzejewski so they aren’t going to be enough to bring fans in.

Big name European players leave their clubs every year in search of football in a league that isn’t as demanding as a Premier League, Bundesliga, or La Liga etc. The A-League is a perfect home for those types of players. While travelling from city to city is different to what they are used to, you can say the same about the weather, the fact they’ll only be playing once a week should be enough of an incentive to come over.

When you go to the movies, you see the ones with an actor or director you like. You go to music festivals that your favourite artists are going to be playing at. More fans will attend A-League matches if it was seen as an attraction.

Total crowds this season per club

  • Melbourne Victory 100,451 in four matches
  • Sydney FC – 67,676 in four matches
  • Brisbane Roar – 42,052 in four matches
  • Adelaide United – 39,521 in four matches
  • Melbourne City – 37,230 in four matches
  • Perth Glory – 36,781 in three matches
  • Newcastle Jets – 34,359 in three matches
  • Central Coast Mariners – 30,509 in four matches
  • Western Sydney Wanderers – 23,883 in two matches
  • Wellington Phoenix – 21,277 in three matches

Biggest crowds of the season

  • Melbourne Victory v Melbourne City (35,972)
  • Sydney FC v Western Sydney Wanderers (34,810)
  • Melbourne Victory v Sydney FC (24,804)
  • Melbourne Victory v Western Sydney Wanderers (21,577)
  • Adelaide United v Melbourne Victory (19,416)

Lowest crowds of the season

  •  Central Coast Mariners v Adelaide United (5,073)
  •  Central Coast Mariners v Melbourne Victory (5,519)
  • Wellington Phoenix v Perth Glory (6,105)
  • Newcastle Jets v Wellington Phoenix (6,258)
  • Wellington Phoenix v Brisbane Roar (7,018)

The above says a hell of a lot about two clubs in particular. Melbourne Victory have played in four of the five most attended matches of the season, and Wellington have played in three of the five least attended matches of the season.

A-League crowds are bad for the most, only 10 out of 34 matches have had over 50 per cent capacity. I hope this clears up a lot about A-League crowds, my therapist said it would be a good idea to get this off my chest. Oh, and don’t get me started on ticket prices.

 

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