“We’re unstoppable in Australian sport and the next 17 days gives us another opportunity to demonstrate that.”
When David Gallop made that bold claim to gathered media last month I knew immediately that those words would come back to haunt him. When he followed them up by saying “I think the proper Cricket kind of ended yesterday with the Ashes being decided” I knew his comments would do more harm than good.
Soccer in Australia is in a very interesting position. It is one of the few sports in Australia that can go from being a national obsession when the time is right, to being less than an afterthought when the stars are not aligned.
The Soccer World Cup dominates Australia’s thoughts on the game. The truth is that outside of the World Cup, most people don’t care too much about Soccer. The A League is doing it’s best to change that, but change takes time.
Unlike the Socceroo’s performing at the World Cup, the A League is something the FFA needs to sell to the Australian sporting public. It is a competition they need to convince people to invest their time and interest into. That is difficult for any sport or entertainment venture to do. In a world that now has a thousand distractions it is very difficult to break through the noise and gain real attention from a potential viewer.
Over the course of its history the A League has had it’s ups and downs. Some seasons, like last season for instance, the competition manages to grab people’s attention. It captures lightening in a bottle. People start to take interest, they start to care, they start to follow a team and it looks like the competition is about to kick on. The problem the A League keeps running into is that it can not hold onto the casual sports fans attention for more than a single season.
The hardcore fans in any sport will say this isn’t a problem, that they don’t need the fair weather, casual sports fan turning up with the sun is shining and everything is good in the world. The truth is that these casual fans are what help you make the leap from a niche competition into a mainstream sport. They are the ones that take your broadcasting deals over the billion dollar mark. They are the ones that get you to a sellout crowd. They are the ones that help you sell out of merchandise and the ones that bring big sponsors to the competition.
This summer has been unfortunate for the A League for a few reasons…
First of all, I don’t think anyone could have imagined the way the Ashes Cricket would capture the attention it has and be able to sustain it at such a high lever throughout the summer. Australia’s remarkable reversal of fortune, their domination of England, the stories running along in the background and the controversies have all helped push the A League off the back pages and out of the collective conscious of the casual sports supporter.
On top of this you have the Big Bash League which came along at just the right time and allowed the casual sports fan to immerse themselves in even more Cricket!
Up until this season the Big Bash League has been a colossal failure. Now, pretty much every night of the week, you can watch the Big Bash League on Free To Air Tv in prime time. The have been some great games on show in the BBL and for the time being it is taking the interest of a lot of casual sports fans.
The A League struggles to capture people attention at the best of times, but in the face of the perfect storm they have faced this summer, the A League has really found it hard to even get a look in. The fact the competition is shown on Pay TV rather than all games being shown on Free To Air TV doesn’t help.
Then we have the off field issues the A League has faced with crowd trouble…
The biggest headlines in the A League this season have revolved around off field violence. It was disgraceful to see “supporters” fighting in the streets, faces covered, throwing missiles at one another. The A League has a terrible reputation for crowd behaviour, and this violence just reinforced that reputation.
The casual fan see’s those issues and they want nothing to do with it. They see idiots lighting flares in the stands and they switch off. No casual sports fan wants to buy the jersey of a club that’s supporter base has become known for violence off the field. No one wants to take their family to any sporting contest that could turn ugly if a small percentage of trouble making idiots decides tonight is the night and they are going to cause trouble.
Sure Soccer isn’t the only sport in Australia that has crowd problems, but there is no question that the A Leagues problems far exceed those in other sports.
I have been scathing of some of the crowd issues that Rugby League has faced in recent years. I think the limp wristed response by Rugby League administrators has been pathetic. Search this site and you will see my stance on crowd behaviour in the NRL. Having said all that, these issues are no where near the level that the A League has reached. The long term damage to the games overall reputation is also no where near as great.
When you combine all of this together, the A League is facing a season from hell.
I want Soccer in Australia to do well. I’m a Soccer fan myself. The first sporting team I ever wanted to play for was the Socceroo’s.
I worry that the A League will go down the path of the NBL. I worry that all of the hard work that has been put in over the years to build the competition in an effort to crack into the mainstream will be lost in a season punctuated by off field violence and general apathy from the general public.
With so many other choices out there, Soccer needs to put its best foot forward every season. There can be no missteps. There can be no bad headlines.
David Gallop’s bold statements may have been well received at the right time. As it turned out, his timing was terrible. It is a lesson Soccer in Australia really needs to take on board. There is still so much hard work to be put in, and so many issues the games has to face. This isn’t a time for bold statements, this is a time to put in the effort to improve the sport in this country.
A well known Rugby League writer, League Freak has established a reputation among supporters of the game for his fearless commentary and unmatched insight. With a reach that spans both sides of the globe, League Freak has produced an independent network that allows him to distribute content to his many thousands of followers. He is the owner and main author of LeagueFreak.com