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Resurrecting the A-League

By Dino Cesta - posted Thursday, 12 November 2009

Just when you were hopeful soccer was emerging from the shadows of the other significant football codes in Australian sport and laying the foundation for a prosperous future, it found a new avenue to sabotage itself.

The decision by Gold Coast football club billionaire owner Clive Palmer to restrict crowd attendance to 5,000 appeared a contemptuous, short-sighted and self-defeating decision made by a sporting code in Australia if not the world in recent memory.

While there was an about face by Palmer on the crowd cap following a supporter and player revolt, and Football Federation Australia (FFA) intervention, the Gold Coast debacle is perhaps the ground shaking catalyst which the FFA need to awaken the game from the mire it finds itself.


The Palmer act revealed to dramatic effect the underlying malaise of Australia’s premium soccer league which is the A-league! In its fifth season, the A-League should by now have been gaining momentum and a significant force to be reckoned with on the domestic sporting front. No marketing spin can now conceal the reality that the A-League is presently on a gradual downward spiral, and risks sliding further towards a catatonic state. And this in the midst of a World Cup bid for 2018 and 2022!

Being an educated sporting nation, Australians know and appreciate quality when they see it. That is demonstrated by their love affair with the Socceroos, who have captured the imagination of the Australian public by their international successes. Unlike the Socceroos, the A-League has failed to grab the imagination of the Australian sporting public.

While the A-League has endeavoured to leverage the Socceroos’ success, it is unreasonable to expect the Socceroos brand to be the sole contributor in sustaining the domestic league. Until such time as the administrators and ambassadors of the game find a substantive means in capturing the attention and imagination of a viewing public for the right reasons, soccer will continue to be treated by the Australian public at the domestic level as poor second cousins of other football codes. As one means, the FFA must raise its intensity in marketing and enhancing the profile of the A-League as it does with the Socceroos.

For the A-League to prosper and crowds to grow, a key element the FFA and clubs must address is the need to develop and nurture a greater sense of community and family culture. This will only come to pass with increased player stability, continuity, and loyalty, and the club putting back into the community by being actively engaged in such grassroots activities as community events, charities, school events, and sporting clinics.

Players and the clubs must demonstrate their genuine commitment to their community, including pride in wearing the jersey. Without creating a sense of community and loyalty, it will be difficult for clubs to establish a solid foundation of supporter loyalty, significant increased spectator attendance at games, and the long term financial viability of soccer in Australia. Melbourne Victory is a professional management and business model which appears to have had the greatest success and is a case study worth analysing by other A-League clubs.

Devoid of these community and loyalty considerations, the A-League is built on sandy foundations. And until such time as we perceive the A-League more than just a player nursery for European, Middle Eastern or Asian clubs (due in part to salary cap restrictions), and a retirement holiday village for players past their prime, A-League’s credibility and long term prosperity cannot be guaranteed.


On the television rights front, while Foxtel is to be commended on the exceptional quality of domestic and international soccer coverage being delivered into the living rooms of the subscription public, the lack of exposure of the A-League on free-to-air television and other mediums (apart from the soccer abiding SBS) acts as a detriment to promoting the game.

As the founding fathers of televising, educating and awakening the Australian public to the diverse cultural flavours that the world game has to offer both domestically and internationally, SBS still has a crucial role to play in raising the profile of the world game in Australia.

For the sake of the game, Foxtel and one of the free-to-air stations (if not SBS) need to jointly, actively, promote and raise the profile of soccer in Australia by televising games on both subscription and free-to-air television. This arrangement works well with rugby league and Australian Rules and is a model that should be adopted for soccer. And with increased free-to-air digital stations now on offer to viewers, this is an opportunity which the FFA must surely leverage.

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About the Author

Dino Cesta is a freelance communicator of thoughts, opinions and ideas on politics, economic and social issues and public policy. Cofounder of the non-profit organisation Hand in Hand Arthouse, and the Newcastle Italian Film Festival, Dino graduated with a Bachelor of Economics and Master of Politics and Public Policy. You can follow Dino on View from the Obelisk or Twitter on @dinoc888

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