Why The A-League Just Can't Afford The Little Guys
The fact the two new A-League licenses come from Australia’s two biggest markets is no surprise.
While they started with 15 bids from around Australia including Tasmania, Adelaide, Fremantle, Gold Coast, Wollongong and Ipswich, ultimately five of the last bids standing were from Melbourne and Sydney with the other from Australia’s capital.
In the end it’s the Western Melbourne Group and Macarthur South West Sydney who will join the A-League over the next two years.
As Football Federation Australia Chairman, Chris Nikou, explained, “South-West Sydney and Melbourne represent some of the biggest growth corridors (for the game) in Australia.”
But for all of the rhetoric, the fact of the matter is placing teams in the Australia’s biggest markets gives the competition more commercial clout.
He hit the nail on the head when he spoke of creating “new rivalries, bigger television audiences, more derbies and importantly, further opportunities for Australian footballers to play at the highest level in this country.”
By introducing two new teams in cities that already have a significant A-League presence, the competition is adding more flashpoints to its season’s narrative.
It’s adding city rivalries and local derbies. These games generally rate better than others and attract higher crowds. The highest ever regular season crowd of 61,880 was between Western Sydney Wanderers and Sydney FC. The third biggest crowd came from a Melbourne Derby when 45,202 turned up to watch Victory and City play out a nil all draw.
In fact, nine of the top 10 A-League regular season crowds have come from Sydney and Melbourne derbies.
Because two local teams are going head to head, interest in the game is amplified with the upcoming ‘derby’ receiving more media coverage and conversation than when they are playing teams from other states.
And so by adding teams and creating more rivalries in one market -- be they real or manufactured through marketing and PR spin -- the A-League is giving itself the best chance to lead, or at least be part of, the mainstream media narrative more often.
After all, in a crowded sports market, it’s not easy to be the centre of attention or to be heard over the crowd. To do so, you need to give the pundits something to talk about and let’s face it, if you get Melbourne and Sydney talking about your game, you’ve got about 40 percent of the population.
However, there is the risk, for all sports, that if you keep peppering the market with new teams and longer seasons, eventually something will give.
Take Melbourne, for example, which currently supports nine AFL teams, five AFLW teams, an NRL and Super Rugby team, two Big Bash franchises, two National Netball teams, an NBL team and two A-League teams.
The city also hosts a Tennis Grand Slam, Formula 1 Grand Prix, the Melbourne Cup and the Boxing Day Test.
This year the Big Bash league has expanded with each team playing four more games. Next year the newest A-League team will be introduced, along with a new team from the NBL, while in 2020 two new Melbourne based teams will join the AFLW.
Just how many of these teams can the sport obsessed city support and maintain? After all, with each new team and with each extra game, the sports fan is stretched that little bit further.
This ultimately means that sports, more than ever, need to stand out from the crowd and creating rivalries and more local derbies is one way of doing that.
Time will tell if it works.