Monday, January 10, 2011

Getting crowds back to the A-League.....Advertise? Television?

The 2010/2011 Hyundai A-League season has seen some exciting and pulsating games, moments of brilliance and the unearthing and exposure of young talent being thrust unto the Australian sporting landscape. It’s also seen some humiliating lows and crushing defeats with clubs either facing financial uncertainty or not even being lifted off the ground (RIP Sydney Rovers FC, we hardly knew yee unfortunately).

The season’s headlines have been mostly dominated with record low crowds, despite the fact the quality of the game has significantly risen since the first season. To help bolster crowd numbers to the games, it’s agreed that something drastic needs to be done sooner rather than later. The naysayers to the A-League/football in Australia will make you believe that it’s is on life support and the plug needs to be pulled. Far from it.

There are many, many “remedies” that can be said to help bolster the A-League and the growth of the sport in Australia, but besides throwing millions upon millions of dollars at the problem/s in hope that it will fade away, here are two (of perhaps many) examples that the Football Federation Australia (FFA) and each individual A-League club could do to help generate crowd numbers.

Television: Currently, the A-League is only available on Foxtel through the Fox Sports network. Foxtel’s market penetration is over 30 per cent of the total Australian population and then you have to take into account how many subscriptions of that 30+ per cent actually have the sports package and how many of those watch the A-League. Suffice to say that one would imagine that it wouldn’t be a lot.

This means that an entire market (Free to Air television) goes without seeing a full game and is left with tid-bits of highlights from either SBS’ The World Game or OneHD’s World Football News. An ideal way for Foxtel to have the majority of the A-League cake while promoting the game would be to allow a Free To Air network to have a delayed “game of the week” and/or an extended highlights package of the round’s games. This allows for Foxtel to have live rights to the games (for those who want to watch the games live) and gives exposure to perhaps a “neglected” market for the game to grow.

Advertising: Remember those freestylers kicking paint covered footballs of the A-League’s first season? Or the “90 Minutes, 90 Emotions” advertising campaign in 2007/2008? Seems like a long time ago when one thinks about it retrospectively. Any advertising person will tell you that once you have a product that you want to sell, you have to advertise to get your target market’s attention. While it’s understandable that the FFA focused their attentions to the (now infamous) unsuccessful attempts to win the hosting rights of the FIFA 2022 World Cup, they seriously left the promotion of the game unchecked.

This is obvious in terms of dwindling crowd numbers across all A-League clubs. Better attention to the marketing of the game will pay massive results for the clubs and the game as a whole.
Society is rapidly evolving (communication wise) so why not utilise social networking tools like Twitter, YouTube and the ever popular Facebook to promote the game. Facebook has over 50 per
cent penetration of the online population in Australia with over nine-million users, so wouldn’t this be an effective platform to advertise the game? Harness the power of social media and its control over people to great effect and watch the results that will follow.

But the FFA is not solely to blame, the clubs themselves need to engage themselves with their local communities. The attitude of (for argument’s sake) Gold Coast United’s “build it and they will come” ethos has spectacularly crashed and burnt, with an Australian record low crowd of 1,714 fans coming to see their team fall 1 – 0 to North Queensland Fury.

This in turn prompted billionaire owner Clive Palmer to announce a free ticket day against the Central Coast Mariners which produced a record high crowd of over 11,000 people, but suffered the unfortunate fate of being cancelled before even half the game was played due to heavy rain. A-League clubs need to really connect with their local community and show a sense of loyalty and commitment to the promotion of the game through formal engagements with regional associations within their respective states/territories. Build that sense of wanting to come to the game and the love of the team.

If the FFA can combine the two “ingredients” together properly, who knows what results may come to fruition and while the results may not be instantaneous, the impact that it can have on the youth and the casual football of today will pay dividends in many seasons to come.

You can only reap what you sow.

By Marcel Abboud our A-League Correspondant (Facebook Follower)