A reboot, a reset or a rejuvenation?
- 11 teams will contest the 2019-2020 season over a 29-round home-and-away season
- The A-League is investing more in its local talent, rather than marquee players
- The league’s new marketing campaign aims to reconnect the game with its fans
No matter how the upcoming 15th season is being sold, one thing the A-League is hinging on is a much-needed reconnection with its fans, young and old.
“We’ve struggled to unlock this 1.7 million participants that we have in our game into the A-League and into the W-League,” A-League boss Greg O’Rourke said.
“We need to really tap into that young participation base we have.”
The 2019-2020 season has launched in Sydney on Tuesday, and the opening game between Adelaide and Sydney will take place on Friday.
What’s likely to be most noticeable for both avid supporters and infrequent followers this season is the lack of big-name, overseas signings.
Clubs have moved way from targeting marquee players, choosing instead to develop local talent.
The aim: to create a stronger connection with the players and their fans.
“We’ve seen a real shift in respect of how much these marquees cost and … the age of those marquees when they come to our leagues,” O’Rourke said.
“We’ve actually reset ourselves to focus on our youth.”
Grassroots is not just the focus of those running the game, the players have also bought into the mantra of getting back to basics.
“We need to invest in getting the grassroots kids and keeping them in soccer for as long as possible because that’s ultimately what’s going to grow the game in Australia,” the Perth Glory’s Chris Ikonomidis said.
“We’ve got the numbers, we just need to get it all together and get behind football.”
The A-League is currently transitioning into an independent competition after a 12-month period of “significant change”.
Previously, Football Federation Australia (FFA) had been responsible for the running of the game.
“We’ve worked closely with the clubs, we stand side by side with them, and we look forward to pushing our sport forward, to providing excellent entertainment for the fans,” FFA chairman Chris Nikou said.
Selling the game without the big names
Flagging crowds and poor ratings have plagued the code in recent years.
Pay-TV ratings have dropped in the past six successive years, with an average of just over 50,000 viewers per match, last season.
Now the game has a new, free-to-air home, with the ABC to run A-League matches, as well as W-League, Socceroos and Matildas’ games.
The players themselves are the backbone of a marketing campaign that ends with the tag line: “Where heroes are made.”
“I think the marketing of the league just needs to keep stepping up and growing,” Mitchell Duke, from Western Sydney Wanderers, said.
“Overall … the A-League … [is] growing slowly but we are battling with all these other codes. We need to try and make a bit more noise.”
League debutant Western United — based in regional Victoria — brings the number of teams playing this season to 11.
The addition of an expansion club means an uneven draw over the 29 home-and-away rounds. Each team plays 13 home and 13 away games and has three byes.
“Over the last few years I think everyone would agree that the League has probably plateaued,” Newcastle’s Nigel Boogaard said.
“It’s great to have new teams this year and next year [Macarthur Rams] to get the buzz and the hype back around.
“This next couple of years is going to be a telling time to see where the game is and where the game ends up in the future.”