Viw Magazine

  • Written by Jessica Richards, Lecturer Sport Business Management, Western Sydney University
The A-League is struggling to attract TV viewers and fans at matches. Would a move to the winter make any difference? Gary Day/AAP

In the past week, the Australian football players union has been pressuring the A-League to make a major change in the sport – shifting to a winter competition, instead of its current spot in the brutal summer.

Both the A-League and W-League seasons currently run from October-April. One of the main reasons for the summer schedule was to avoid head-to-head competition with the much bigger Australian Football League (AFL) and National Rugby League (NRL), which both play in the winter.

But there’s a growing feeling in the sport that a move to the winter months would be beneficial for football, particularly as our summers grow hotter and bushfires worsen.

Last weekend, A-League officials considered cancelling the match between Sydney FC and Newcastle Jets due to the air quality in NSW before shifting course at the last minute. However, the W-League match scheduled before it was postponed.

Schedule not aligned with other leagues

The A-League is believed to be the only professional football league in the world in which the top-level competition plays at a different time of year from its lower-tier league. The semi-pro National Premier League currently plays in the winter, from March to October.

Read more: Why soccer is falling behind footy and rugby in Australia

According to former Socceroo John Aloisi, the way the schedule is currently set up widens the gap between amateur and professional football. This separation limits the development pathways for players, coaches and administrators.

It also situates the Australian national competition outside the Asian football schedule, which is also in the Southern Hemisphere winter.

If we want to move forward as a code we need to go, ‘Alright, Asia is played this time of the year, we have to play with them.’

Moving to the winter could have a huge impact on the women’s game, too. It would give the W-League a major opportunity to grow its fan base since no other Australian women’s sport is played at that time of year, other than netball.

As former Matilda Shelley Youman says,

Crowds are not coming now anyway, so why not try something new. We need to find our place in the busy Australian sporting landscape.

Hotter temperatures lead to patchier play

Other players have also thrown their support behind the idea, arguing the Australian summer heat and constant need for water breaks impacts the quality of football. The FFA heat policy mandates a 90-second drink break in each half when the wet bulb globe temperature (WBGT) is between 26 and 27.9 degrees Celsius, or the ambient temperature is over 31 degrees.

A match can be delayed or postponed when the WBGT reaches 28 degrees.

Former Socceroos star Jason Culina said he loses up to four kilograms after games played in the heat and it can take days to recover. He says the fields in the summer months are also “rock hard”, leading to increased injuries.

My career was almost ended by a serious knee injury in 2011 that was caused by wear and tear. … the hard conditions in Australia might have accelerated the deterioration.

The heat may also be a contributing factor to fans staying away from A-League matches. Statistics show that since 2015, crowd attendance at A-League matches has continually declined.

A-League attendance figures (2015-2019) Austadiums

Where will they play in winter?

So, how feasible would a switch actually be? Could this be the “shake-up” many have called for in the A-League?

One of the biggest problems is where A-League games would be played if the main stadiums are busy hosting AFL, NRL and Super Rugby matches.

Read more: Australia wants to host the 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup. Equal pay for the Matildas will help our chances

Part of the A-League season currently overlaps with those leagues in March and April. This already poses problems for footballers, due to the damage caused to fields by scrums and studs.

Sydney FC, for example, has scheduled games at several suburban grounds while the Sydney Football Stadium is being rebuilt. However, last February the team had to move a match from Brookvale Oval after the playing surface was considered not up to “A-League standard”.

Add to that Melbourne Victory player Terry Antonis’ knee injury that was largely attributed to the poor condition of the Sydney Cricket Ground after a Super Rugby match.

In NSW, the Berejiklian government has controversially committed A$2 billion to stadium redevelopment, but most of the money is going toward its main stadiums in Olympic Park and Moore Park.

This has resulted in ongoing criticism from those who believe the money could have been dispersed more evenly to upgrade smaller stadiums. The benefits of investing in smaller stadiums include enhancing the match atmosphere and creating a more family-friendly environment. They are overwhelmingly favoured by fans and football clubs alike

Read more: Australians love their sport, but investing in new venues is another matter

Growing the fan base amid so much competition

The A-league’s current position in the sporting calendar is already not drawing huge television audiences. The season opener between the Wanderers and Mariners in October attracted just 47,000 viewers on the ABC in the five major capital cities – down from 93,000 a year earlier.

Read more: Why soccer is falling behind footy and rugby in Australia

While research shows Australians have multiple loyalties when it comes to sport, the A-League has long struggled to build a strong emotional connection with its fans – hence the poor television viewership and match attendance figures.

A recent study by True North Research highlighted how important the emotional connection is between fans and clubs.

Read more: The beautiful social media game: A-League winners and losers on Twitter

The Matildas have long been considered among the “most loved Australian sport teams” but A-League clubs have been ranked the worst of any summer sports teams for emotional connection with fans.

In light of this, a move to winter could pose a serious risk to football’s future. Multiple online fan surveys have shown that if it was a choice between the NRL, AFL or A-League, A-League would not be the winner.

Perhaps instead of a shift to a different season, the A-League should focus on better developing and marketing its summer matches. As it stands now, the league decided not to do any marketing for the 2019-20 season until after the NRL and AFL Finals were over.

If the A-League’s administrators won’t promote the league before the season even starting, what hope does football have against a field of giants?

The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Authors: Jessica Richards, Lecturer Sport Business Management, Western Sydney University

Read more

The Role Of A Construction Supervisor On A Construction Site

Those looking into building a career in the building and construction industry are afforded a lot of options they can pursue, with responsibilities often being as diverse as the projects themsel...

News Company - avatar News Company

4 Writing Hacks You Need to Become a Great Writer

What do you need to mount up your writing skills and become a cooler writer? This venture is highly individual and relies on each particular writer’s personal abilities and expertise. However...

News Company - avatar News Company

Factors to Consider When Looking For Kid’s Birthday Party Venues

Organising huge children's birthday parties begin with finding the right kids birthday party venues. Like every other major activity that requires a bunch of guests, the final venue will dictate...

Ester Adams - avatar Ester Adams

How a Share Registry Works

Australia, the Land Down Under, is a melting pot of cultures, races, and ethnicities. This country embraces diversity and has no tolerance for discrimination of any kind, especially if it is abou...

Ester Adams - avatar Ester Adams

Has Australia really had 60,000 undiagnosed COVID-19 cases?

A preliminary study, posted online this week by researchers at the Australian National University and elsewhere, estimates 71,000 Australians had COVID-19 by mid-July — 60,000 more than official...

Andrew Hayen, Professor of Biostatistics, University of Technology Sydney - avatar Andrew Hayen, Professor of Biostatistics, University of Technology Sydney

How could wearing a mask help build immunity to COVID-19? It’s all about the viral dose

People infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, can spread the virus when they speak, sing, cough, sneeze or even just breathe. Scientists think face masks help limit virus spread by ...

Larisa Labzin, Research Fellow, Institute for Molecular Bioscience, The University of Queensland - avatar Larisa Labzin, Research Fellow, Institute for Molecular Bioscience, The University of Queensland

the pros and cons of different COVID vaccine technologies

ShutterstockThe World Health Organisation lists about 180 COVID-19 vaccines being developed around the world.Each vaccine aims to use a slightly different approach to prepare your immune system to rec...

Suresh Mahalingam, Principal Research Leader, Emerging Viruses, Inflammation and Therapeutics Group, Menzies Health Institute Queensland, Griffith University - avatar Suresh Mahalingam, Principal Research Leader, Emerging Viruses, Inflammation and Therapeutics Group, Menzies Health Institute Queensland, Griffith University

Government extends COVID health initiatives at $2 billion cost

The government is extending the COVID health measures for a further six months, until the end of March, in its latest acknowledgement that pandemic assistance will be needed on various fronts for a lo...

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra - avatar Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

How to clear Victoria's backlog of elective surgeries after a 6-month slowdown? We need to rethink the system

ShutterstockWith the number of COVID-19 cases in Victoria continuing to trend downwards, Premier Daniel Andrews yesterday announced a phased restart of elective procedures in public and private hospit...

Stephen Duckett, Director, Health Program, Grattan Institute - avatar Stephen Duckett, Director, Health Program, Grattan Institute

Writers Wanted

News Company Media Core

Content & Technology Connecting Global Audiences

More Information - Less Opinion