Is the Asian Tiger sick?
Despite A-League crowd numbers rising throughout the current season, attracting crowds to Asian Champions League fixtures still seems to be a problem.
With two out of three A-League teams making a decent start to their Asian Champions League (ACL) campaign, it seems timely to consider the question of why the football public do not seem to have warmed to the competition.
Only 5,018 tuned up to watch Mariners play Seongnam Ilwha on a fine early autumn evening in Gosford, on the back of 5,130 against a Nagoya Grampus team that included Socceroo talisman Josh Kennedy. That-s a poor turn-out for the Premiers who have enjoyed a healthy home crowd average of 9,628 for the 2011/12 season.
5,112 turned up at Hindmarsh to watch the Reds take on Gamba Osaka compared to their normal average of 9,292.
Only Brisbane Roar appears to have bucked the trend, attracting 12,037 for their home game against FC Tokyo, which compares well to their normal Suncorp crowd of 13,508. Perhaps this anomaly can be put down to the fact that unlike the Reds and Mariners fans, this is the Roar supporters- first taste of Asian action and maybe the novelty factor accounted for the strong turnout.
One explanation for the relatively poor ACL crowds no doubt lies in the fact that a member who holds a season ticket does not get entrance to any ACL or finals matches included in the cost of their membership.
Bearing in mind that there would not be much change, if any, of out $100 for a family of four to attend either a finals series or ACL game, this is a hugely significant factor, especially bearing in mind that the Roar are still heavily involved in the finals series.
That would mean a $200 outlay in a week if there was a home league (or finals) game and a home ACL game in the same week.
As the ACL games are shown live on TV (albeit on Fox Sports) it is a cheaper and more convenient option for many families to simply watch the action from the comfort of their own lounge room.
Another factor is the mid-week nature of the ACL fixturing. Obviously, there is good reasoning for this as the teams involved have their own domestic league commitments on weekends. However, this makes it difficult for young families in particular to get to evening kick off games on a school night, not to mention the parents who might not be able to make it from work in time.
I also think some people find it difficult to relate to and get excited about opposition about which they know very little, if anything.
Sure, some of the ACL opposition may be full of internationals from their own country, but the South Korean and Chinese national team players are not exactly household names in Australia and the leagues are not very well known by Australian fans.
With the bulk of the ACL games coming at the end of the season, perhaps an element of ‘fan fatigue- kicks in too. It-s been 6 months since October when the current A-League season kicked off. It can be hard for fans and their families to maintain their interest and focus for an extended period when the bread-and-butter of the regular season is over.
Other sports begin their seasons, with AFL and NRL obvious examples, and perhaps different interests start to take over at this team of year.
Usually whenever an Australian team plays there is a great deal of patriotism that kicks in and sees supporters turn out in force. The main difference with the teams participating in the ACL though is that they are not seen as representing the country, just the town or maybe the state they are from.
Do Perth Glory fans tune in, in big numbers to watch the Mariners play Asian opposition? Do Sydney fans make the trip up the freeway to watch their local rivals, the Mariners, play live? I doubt it.
Maybe it will take an Australian team to take the final step that Adelaide narrowly failed to manage in 2008 when they were beaten in the final.
Given the Australian obsession with winning, maybe the numbers will kick in when someone brings the trophy home to these shores, and at that time the matches will stop being viewed as expensive exhibition games to be viewed with passing curiosity, and instead be valued for the high quality full-blooded competitive matches that they actually are.