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Lessons from a groundbreaking A-League Season

There’s many lessons our humble game has been taught this season. The past several months have shown us the best (and the worst) in Australian Football and its growing baby in the A-League. Like all new entities, it’s important to reflect on lessons learnt from the past season. So here’s 5 things we learnt this season from the A-League:

1. There is life past the marquee effect

Whilst it’s been great celebrate the massive confidence boost provided by having Alessandro Del Piero, Emile Heskey and Shinji Ono joining the A-League, this season has shown us that there is life past the superstars’ limelight. The league has been able to consolidate itself into a competitive sport entity to challenge for a top place amongst the saturated sports market in Australia. Attendance’s saw a boost averaging an all time high of 13,000 spectators per game, a positive improvement that should serve as a launchpad for future seasons. There’s been improved TV ratings, club membership sales and general interest in the league.

However, confidence killed the cat as we saw with David Gallops bold statement against the Big Bash League which proved to be desperately premature as a new TV contract drove ratings sky high. The challenge going forward will be the A-League continually affirming itself and learning to deal with this competition.

2. Confidence in Asia

The Mariners, Wanderers and Victory have done a fantastic job in asserting Australia in the Asian Champions League. It’s a performance that has been backed up by the confidence of Manchester City choosing to come and expand their brand in Asia through the purchase of Melbourne Heart. On top of hosting the Asian Cup in January next year, Australia and the A-League has been handed an amazing opportunity to grow a presence throughout Asia as a top league. Especially with City setting up base camp in Melbourne, there will be an influx of young talent throughout the region flocking to Melbourne to earn a chance to make it in Europe. Credit is also due to the hard work and example that’s been set by Tom Rogic, Danny de Silva, Mat Ryan and so much other young talent that have attracted attention to the league from clubs abroad.

3. Free-to-Air A-League… meh

The news that football was coming home to SBS was an announcement that had every football fan in Australia smiling. Whilst we all loved the opportunity to see our game on free TV, did hosting Friday night games on SBS 2 really work out?

I think not.

Nobody can deny the amazing work that the crew over at SBS football to produce in broadcasting the game, ratings however, suggest that maybe SBS was the wrong choice of broadcaster. Mediocre ratings along with the short-lived airtime of Thursday FC suggest that maybe the FFA should have looked to a channel 7 or even 10 broadcast games, especially in such an important phase for the A-Leagues growth. Free-to-air A-League needed to be focused on targeting new supporters of the sport and converting them into fans of a club. Unfortunately, SBS doesn’t have that leverage that another commercial station could provide with most die-hard fans willing to folk out the money to watch every game.

4. All-Star concept is tacky

I’m not against welcoming massive European powerhouses like Manchester United and Juventus to play in Australia, but the concept unnecessarily Americanises our sport. It’s hard for most sports fans in general (myself included) to get their head around booing a player during the season and past the finals cheering him on. It’s a nice way the FFA are trying to welcome aboard more neutral fans to the game, but in my opinion the Liverpool v Victory game worked much better and gave sports fans a taste of the actual A-League than a collection of their best. Who can forget the 80,000 fans at the MCG signing, You’ll never walk alone? The game provided direct exposure to the product being Victory, instead of having to hope sports fans would go be proactive in discovering their A-League side.

And despite how much the FFA deny it, the continuation of the Sydney-centric base of football limits the expansion of the game in other cities.

5. We need better, more consistent match officials

In every sport you’ll  follow there’s always going to be criticism of the referee, but never before has there been as much inconstancy as we saw this season. It was disappointing to see how bad decisions can have such an adverse affect on a game and we were provided with too many examples this season. Although at some stage everyone is going to make a wrong call, it gets to a stage where these errors impede on the quality of the game as we saw too many times this season. Kudos to the FFA, who have actively signed a deal with the Japanese K-League to work on a Referee exchange program which can only improve the quality of officiating, though much more work still needs to be done.

For more Australian Soccer, visit The TURF – Australian. Football. Fresh. Photo //Keith Moore

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