Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A-League draw 2011/12. What we wanted?

By Paul Frederickson

It is not an understatement to suggest that the upcoming season's A-League draw has been the most anticipated in the league's short history. The draw was televised online and on Fox Sports which in itself is a new measure of what the FFA are aiming towards; anticipation, excitement and media interest in the competition.
The start of the 2011/12 Hyundai A-League season has been placed in the vital and short-lived window where the AFL and NRL seasons have been completed and domestic cricket is only just commencing. Hopefully the FFA will use this time to heavily promote the season with multimedia and in particular, television advertising.

The FFA has thought about the games that should be played at different times of the year. With the Brisbane Roar versus Central Coast Mariners rematch to start the season as well as the traditional Melbourne Victory versus Sydney FC blockbuster to be played on Australia day this illustrates the FFA’s intent to capitalise on crowd rivalries. The dreaded mid-week fixtures are on hiatus until the holiday period of December and January. This will allow for more people to attend these games as well as have reasonable ratings for Fox Sports as more people will be on holidays than normal.

Regional matches, of whom destinations are still to be finalised are also to be facilitated by the league allowing for greater exposure in the Australian market. Regional areas have long been forgotten or neglected by our national codes and this is another market segment that the FFA can not only utilise but help. No byes for teams. With the unfortunate demise of the North Queensland Fury the one positive is that teams will not have a bye.

Teams will not have as many blocks of consecutive games. Last season saw teams play up to five games in a 15 day period which not only fatigued small squads but had a skewed ladder where teams true ladder positions could not be gauged at any given time, bar round one.

The finals and Grand Final will be played at the start of the NRL and AFL seasons as well as being part way through the Super Rugby season. This may affect teams that share grounds. This would be Sydney FC, the Melbourne teams as well as the Brisbane Roar. When the grounds are required to be at their peak they could be damaged. In previous years some of the finals have been played the day after Super Rugby and NRL games. Games that would be less affected by ground damage than our game which requires precise passing on an even surface.

The long awaited and highly anticipated FFA Cup is believed to start in January 2011. Is this still the case? With the FFA ordering Melbourne Heart and Victory to not participate in Victoria’s competition, the Mirabella Cup, alarm bells are ringing on the details of this competition. These were the details that I was hoping to see as part of the draw!

Due to the season being conducted over 25 weeks and 27 games being played per season in the current format, there will still be a significant gap between seasons. This is 6 months for those who make the finals and up to 7 months for those who don’t participate in the series. This may still lead to players looking for temporary or permanent loans to overseas clubs. It may also reduce the amount of quality overseas players that we can attract to the competition, especially in light of players attempting to
play for their respective national teams.

The fixtures do not seem to have taken into account the Asian Champion’s League campaigns of Brisbane and the Central Coast. It may require flexibility on behalf of the competition but any Australian team that advances beyond the ACL group phases will be playing just after the A-League season ends.

Teams are not playing an even number of home games to each other and this is not possible with a 27 game season. It does mean that half of the competition will either be advantaged or disadvantaged by having one less ‘home’ game. This extends beyond home ground advantage as it can also give the extra revenue to the clubs that can be generated by hosting these games.

It is uncertain at this stage how much influence clubs and supporters have had on the fixture allocation process. It does seem that the FFA has listened to stakeholders to some extent. Adelaide United has many Friday night games, Central Coast has an amazing 12 Saturday night games and the Gold Coast and Wellington games will be primarily on Sundays. This seems to play to the strength their supporter groups and locales.

Overall the 2011/12 season draw is a positive and much needed change to a more traditional formatting structure. On the face of it, the draw seems more balanced and fair and whilst this is what fans have been crying out for it requires prominent support in the form of advertising.

Let us hope the draw allows the 2011/12 season to be the best yet!