Football is a simple game. How many times have fans heard that said?
Yet in Australia at the moment we seem to be ignoring this basic truism.
Alex Brosque the Captain of Sydney FC did not hold back in an interview last week with FourFourTwo and accused the FFA of losing focus. He felt that the blame for the declining crowds and viewing figures were down to the FFA taking their eyes off the ball.
“I feel the FFA this year with all the stuff that has happened with FIFA has let the league down,” he was quoted as saying. “They could be doing a lot more for the game and getting people coming through the game and that hasn’t been done.”
He went on to say “We all know how hard it is already in this country to get that exposure and media and when it’s for the wrong reasons and when it’s not being focused on the football it’s disappointing. Every club is doing what they can within their budget to promote the game and promote their team but really unless we start doing a lot more from a league perspective and really market the game and get the kids out there and do what they can to get people through the doors this was always going to happen.”
The FFA were very quick to respond stating that there were an unusual amount of distractions at the start of the current A-League season, such as the Rugby League World Cup and the Ashes series taking fans away from the competition.
In November, A-League chief Greg O’Rourke again had to defend the marketing of the A-League and claimed that the FFA had “optimised” its marketing spend to ensure sustained promotion throughout the whole campaign, instead of a “big, flashy thing” at the start of the season. Reading between the lines this would imply the marketing budget has been slashed.
Yet the pairing of the FFA with the launch of the new Star Wars film again saw traditional fans far from impressed, and the FFA accused of making a mockery of the game.
Once again O’Rourke defended the move, and claimed he expected this reaction but said that these fans were not the target audience.
“We think it worked,” he told AAP. “The Star Wars round was received by the purists as trying to create a sugar hit, what the Star Wars round was really doing was trying to appeal to the segment of our audience in our strategy, young families and children, attracting a new audience by communicating to them about something that’s not football.”
Yet once again the crowds coming to the games and watching on TV were well below expected levels. O’Rourke ignoring this claimed that, “Our digital reach was significant over that period and we felt the A-League improved its visibility.” The question is will that reach be turned into A-League fans watching on television or live around the country? What is their plan to follow up on those “new” fans that the promotion attracted?
There are many that will tell you that the A-League, like many other businesses, is suffering the effects of the current economic climate. Therefore no matter what title you give a round of the A-League you are not going to pull fans in. Fox too have suffered losing the English Premier League rights and this has clearly had an impact on their viewership, as many cancelled their subscriptions.
Some fans have admitted that they have tired of the A-League. The same teams playing each other three times in a season. Tired of the same spin being given to hype up the competition. Tired of the same players being recycled. Tired of seeing average overseas players depriving young Australians of being given a chance. The reasons for the lack of enthusiasm are many, such as teams more concerned about losing rather than winning, when they cannot be relegated and if you come sixth in a ten-team league you can still be crowned Champions! There is no doubt that the trialling of the Video Assistant Referee(VAR) has harmed the credibility of the competition rather than enhanced it.
Just days after Brosque’s comments we had the FFA announcing “The Summer Football Festival.” This is an opportunity for families with children under 12 to gain free entry to every match; Terms and conditions do apply. This is a clear attempt to try and lure children away from Cricket’s Big Bash League. However to do that we have to hope that the FFA are backing this incentive with a strong marketing campaign.
Even if it does help swell the currently disappointing crowds, there are many who are concerned that in truth it is simply going to be another way of distorting the A-League statistics.
As we have written previously free tickets should not be included in the official attendance figures, as they distort the truth and also the profitability of the clubs concerned. This should be a rule implemented across all sports in Australia at this point in time, as all are finding these tough economic times.
Also not helping are quasi memberships. Credit to the clubs in coming up with ways to attract fans to watch their teams, but ticket packages for two or five games are not “memberships.” They are ticketing packages. Once again we see these packages lumped in as “memberships” and the clubs then claiming a growth in memberships, to make things appear rosier than they really are. This is a very dangerous path to tread, as it makes clubs and the League appear more successful than they really are. As we saw in one league in the USA a team that looked the most successful and had huge crowds folded when it turned out that the bulk of the crowd received free tickets.
If you are a fan of an A-League club ask yourself this, how easily can you get hold of a free ticket if you need one? That will tell you the mood towards the competition.
If football continues to deceive itself in these ways it will end up paying a very heavy price. The fans are not stupid, and in the modern world information whether true or not spreads like wildfire. Some feel they have been treated with contempt by the powers that be. The whole Governance issue being just one example of the contempt those ruling the game have for those who play and watch.
It is time as we head into 2018 for transparency across the country. It is time for honesty. It is time for communication. There are fans out there to be won back, but there needs to be a cohesive strategy across all the clubs and the FFA to pull the fans back in. If we do not see that and continue to have each round given a puerile title rather than having the football and the contest promoted and being the focus, we can expect more of the same.
Football is a simple game. Promote the game, promote the skill, promote the clubs and promote the players and only then will we see a turnaround. Continue down the same path and the fans will sadly stay away.