December 2nd is an important day for Australia. For it is the day Australia will find out if they will be hosting the 2022 World Cup Finals, and effectively if the sport will continue to exist in the country. Or perhaps I should be a little more precise and say its an important day for Australian Football, since the rest of Australia probably wont care. For you see that is exactly what this entire problem is based around – nobody cares for Australian soccer.
Moving into its 6th year of existence, the Australian domestic league or the Hyundai A-league was founded in 2004 after the demise of the National Soccer League and started off brightly. In a country that’s sport has been dominated by rugby and Australian ‘football’ since what seems like the dawn of time, the best compliment that could of been payed to the emerging league was the AFL’s (Australian Football League – the non-soccer one) aggressive approach to combating this new threat. Constantly fighting for new supporters, the AFL where quick to declare plans to set up new franchises on the Gold Coast and a West Sydney side specifically to try and reel in new fans in area’s that where regarded as hardcore Rugby spots in the country, before soccer did.
Who would blame them though? The A-league started with a bright optimism and its commitment to compete with Rugby and Aussie Rules where apparent from the very start. In its inaugural season, the A-league managed to live up to the hype, league attendances where up, stars such as Dwight Yorke & Pierre Littbarskiby where brought in to quelm the major fear that no European would be interested in flying out to Australia, and to top it off, Fox renewed their contract to broadcast the league for a further 7 years in a deal worth $120mil. Things where looking bright for this new sport in Australia.
One of the sports major successes in Australia was that it managed to hack into the country’s sports mad psyche. With fans who already idolised their international stars in foreign leagues, and a country grabbed by a surprisingly socceroos performance in the World Cup, the A-League was able to capitalise on a sporting community that enjoyed football from a distance, but where now interested in supporting and taking part in the sport, a little closer to home.
This was apparent fairly quickly, the average attendance across the entire league went up by 2000 the season after the World Cup, especially in clubs like Melbourne Victory where the average attendance went up from 14,158 to 27,728 (which rose to 50,000 when Sydney where in town),similarly in other clubs like Brisbane Roar and Sydney. The League average peaked at just around 14,000 in its 3rd year, a modest figure that most countries in Europe would been proud of.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t going to last. With the World Cup, the A-league was able to spread its wings and flourish under a wave of optimism and confidence in Australian Football. Ironically, it would lead to the demise of the league it helped build.
Manys main criticism of the federation is that it became a little too obsessed with the idea of hosting the World Cup. The FFA looked at what the World Cup had done for the league in 2006 and became determined to find a way to emulate that for the future of the league.
Instead of spending money and time promoting the product that led to such success in the first few years of its introduction, promoting new teams entering the league and trying to build a solid fan base for the teams to build platforms off. The Federation began working on a bid to host the World Cup in either 2018 or 2022.
They took their eye off the domestic league for one year, and things have began to fall apart. The league fixture list has fallen into total anarchy, Adelaide United played the Newcastle Jets twice in their first three home games of the season. For many clubs, a 4 week break between home games isnt unusual, and every week one club has a week off due to an odd number of teams in the league. Add to that the decreasing average attendance of the league which has fallen from just over 14,000 in 2007, to 8600 this year, and you have a major problem that is effectively threatening the existence of the league.
A half empty Sydney Football Stadium
The falling attendances can be put down to two things, the first being ill-advised new franchises across the country. The league decided to add a further team in Melbourne, effectively killing off the impressive flag ship attendances at Melbourne Victory. To add a team on the Northern Gold coast(charmingly named Gold Coast United) which struggled to pick up attendances of over 5000 and effectively had to shut down 3 ends of their stadium to save electricity. And to add another team in Syndey ( Sydney Rovers) which has halved the current champions Syndey FC’s to 8000.
The second reason was because the league started roughly the same time as the climax to the Rugby and the AFL season’s meaning the clubs where struggling to keep hold of fans while they stayed at home watching the cup finals in their other respective sports.
Fortunately the A-league has changed its rota, and now doesn’t coincide with such events.
For most, the league would appear to be in free fall to follow the fate of its predecessor. Past the point of no return and will never reach the heights of optimism and support that it experienced in its first few years without a huge injection of investment and interest. I.e a major international tournament.
Whether or not the FFA planned this in some evil layer, or just happened to stumble into this ironic situation through its incompetence and complete neglect of its responsibilities(more than likely). Australian football seems to be on its knees in need of the World Cup to turn around its domestic predicament.
”Australia awaits – prepared, excited and passionate – in the hope that FIFA appoints us to host the 2018 or 2022 FIFA World Cup.” – Ben Buckley, Chief Executive of the Football Federation Australia
Not sure if excited was the word i would of used Ben. Perhaps, anxious would suit the mood a little better. Regardless, Australia needs this bad so be sure to mark December 2nd in the calender. The day the fate of Australian football is decided.