Thursday, April 4, 2013

FFA trumpets success by the numbers

Western Sydney fans.

The total figure clocked in at 1,666,942, the highest in the history of the A-League. Photo: Brendan Esposito

After all the hype that greeted the arrival of three elite marquee players, the most successful debut season of any expansion club and a nationwide buzz that enveloped the game, it was no surprise on Wednesday to see Football Federation Australia trumpet its best-ever crowd figures.

The details were impressive. By virtually every measure, crowds are better than they were last year, except for those teams that experienced a fall in results.

The total figure clocked in at 1,666,942, the highest in the history of the A-League. No wonder chief executive David Gallop was impressed.

''This season, more Australians have watched the A-League live in our venues than ever before,'' Gallop said. ''What they've experienced is the best standard of football our competition has ever seen and the best live atmosphere in Australian sport. The growth is the end product of hard work and investment by 10 clubs.''


The FFA is not only proud of its rising television presence - up by 18 per cent - but of the bouncing online footprint, which has seen a 40 per cent rise on digital platforms and 105 per cent rise on social media.

''The A-League is not just on the move, it's expanding massively in the mainstream of Australian society and capturing thousands of new fans live, on TV and in the digital space,'' Gallop said. He added the game's big strength came from those who engaged with it: aged under 35, eager and enthusiastic. ''Importantly, we are riding a demographic wave. We are a young, exciting and international sport. We represent the diversity of Australian society like no other,'' Gallop said. ''Now we enter the new-look A-League finals series that will showcase all that's great about the competition into an action-packed three weeks of sudden-death football.''

It all sounds good, and it is. But it's not as though the A-League hasn't seen a boom before.

Despite the hyperbole, this year has not eclipsed the most desirable benchmark of average crowds. Not even close, in fact.

In the 2007-08 season, an average of 14,610 went along each week to games around the country. The year before 12,927 showed up.

This most hyped of all seasons took in an average attendance of 12,348, fractionally ahead of the 12,180 who came along in 2008-09.

The reason this year has produced the largest aggregate crowds is obvious. In the first four years of the A-League, there were eight teams. This year, there are 10.

The reason for highlighting these statistics is not to rain on the FFA's parade. It is to demonstrate that while the numbers are strong, it is not cause for celebration.

It should never be forgotten that two years after the highs of 2007-08, crowds had slipped below 10,000. A year later, an average of 8393 was posted. It was half of the 16,000-plus average envisaged by then chief executive Ben Buckley.

Discounting the Wellington Phoenix, now only two true expansion clubs remain.

While Western Sydney is an obvious success, the jury is out on Melbourne Heart, which - excluding visits of Melbourne Victory and Alessandro Del Piero's Sydney FC - averaged under 6500.
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