Watching Fox Sports FC this week Andy Harper made a very valid point about how rival footballing codes also have clubs in difficult financial situations, however the media does not splash these stories across their publications, so why does football?
The reason I believe is that the world game, where the margins between winning and losing are so finite, generates more passion from its followers than other codes. Yes they too have passionate supporters, yet is the emotion the same, no doubt many will beg to differ with my opinion.
In Australia football has always been the poor relation amongst the football codes. It was pushed back in its box frequently in the past because of its ethnic roots, roots which laid the foundation for the game to be where it is today. Roots which the game should be proud of and celebrate.
When the A league was born and Australia finally qualified for the World Cup, football fans felt like finally they had been delivered from the wilderness and were entering the promised land. It has therefore been hard for them to accept that all that glitters is not gold, and that what they thought was the Promised Land was in fact a mirage.
The truth is more hard yards have to be travelled before the game can match its rival codes and stand side by side. The other codes have history on their side, and with history comes tradition, and with tradition you have something for fans to cling onto, games, players, championships, heroes and villains.
The Hyundai A League is only in its sixth season and so it is only just beginning to write its own history. It is only beginning to build up its heroes, its villains and its rivalries; these things take time.
This process could be sped up however with clever marketing, which has sadly been greatly lacking, and when there has been some attempt at marketing it has been horribly misguided.
So often in Australia the pitch is aimed at those the powers that be hope to entice to the game, the non-traditional fan, and as a result the marketing is both insipid and puerile. This is a major mistake as one radio station has found with their listenership never having attracted true football fans.
The aim should be to educate those who do not follow the game, show them the magic of the World game and explain why it is so special, share its innermost secrets. Have knowledgeable, interesting people with energy talking about it rather than dreary clichéd ex players who at times give you no insight into the game whatsoever.
If we pitch the product at those who love the game you are looking after your current audience, you are respecting them, – which is not happening at the moment – you will also pull in those who have walked away from the game who feel they know more than those they see talking or promoting it. That in turn will make those curious about what the fuss is all about start cocking an ear in football’s direction. Only when the bar is raised and the game is targeted at the existing fans will the game start reaping the rewards that it is capable of.
If we educate viewers, listeners and readers then they will see the magic that so many already have felt and witnessed. At the moment we are turning off those who love the game hence the appearance of an implosion.
If this is done properly we will not have to suffer every player when interviewed slip in some reference about the fans. This is so obviously contrived rather than heartfelt and the fans see through it. It has also become unbelievably boring television and radio.
The game has had no visibility. The FFA claim it is because they did not want to go head to head with the finals of the other codes. That says immediately that they do not believe in their product, that they do not believe it can succeed in a head to head battle. Which is again a very negative message being sent to the dedicated fans around the country from those charged with running the game.
There is currently only one club in the A League with a history, Perth Glory. The FFA chooses to ignore that history and do not like it to be referred to in the new order of the Hyundai A League. How ridiculous. It is there and it should be utilized, yet neither the FFA nor the club has used this magnificent lever to attract fans. They have instead resorted to bringing in a big name such as Robbie Fowler to try and pull in new fans; which so far has worked although when he has a breather will the fans still turn up? Cheaper and possibly equally effective marketing tools were sitting there in front of them, their history, but few at the club were there then and fail to know or acknowledge that history.
How many heroes are there in the A league? If you go to a game at any ground around the country you will see ground announcers asking children who their hero is at the Brisbane Roar, at Melbourne Victory or Adelaide United. Yet how often do the clubs listen to those responses and then use the most popular players to help promote the club to those same children? Children need heroes, if you make those heroes real and tangible, you will grow your supporter base, not only for the now but into the future, as that child will tell his children and take them to games talking about the heroes of his day and when they won and lost.
This is why in Europe you support a team as a child and never change; well if you are a real fan. It all stems from those formative years. It is a marriage. These fans guarantee your survival and your future. How many European clubs have been bailed out of financial difficulty thanks to wealthy businessmen who stood and watched that team as a child? How many state league clubs around the country are supported by descendants from the immigrants who set them up? Rugby league and AFL have this, football needs to nurture it, and currently in the main I have seen no evidence of this cultivation.
Ben Buckley was quoted in the West Australian as saying “Perth Glory is a perfect example of how a club can increase its appeal to fans once it is well run, engages its local community and is successful on the pitch.” The truth is ever since the club was split down the middle over Bernd Stange not having his contract renewed – it was in the end – the club has never engaged the community as well as it should. Had Mr Buckley visited the West a little more often he may have actually found that out. He is the consummate politician giving good sound bytes, but rarely talking to the grass roots for fear of what he may hear.
The game still has potential but those charged with running it have to concentrate on the existing fans.
Another example of where these fans are let down is with the clubs choice of ground announcers and MCs at their functions. The fans invariably know more than those who they have paid to hear speak. They know how to pronounce players names, and hate nothing more than seeing other codes stars or local music celebrities with no feel for the game and whom they have never even seen at a game, presenting events.
Fans are not stupid, they may love the game, they may love their team, but that love has to be nurtured. If it is not nurtured, as happens far too often in today’s world what started out as love ends in divorce. This is only the sixth year of the Hyundai A League, beware of the seven year itch