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Getting smaller to grow a bigger league

by Adam Peacock on Aug 29, 2011

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Thanks to some angry beast called Irene, something that was very much anticipated is now an opportunity missed.

In New York for the tennis, I was going to fit in the New York Red Bulls-LA Galaxy match for a little story on Fox Sports.

The two glamour clubs of the MLS. Henry v Beckham and Keane. A full house at the purpose built Red Bull Arena.

As fate should have it, Hurricane Irene surged up the East Coast, postponing the game until October, at a time I’ll be back in Australia looking forward to Hurricane Kewell-Emerton-Socceroos-A-League.
Yet taking a closer look, it’s noticeable the MLS as a whole looks to be a fertile ground for ideas in regards to the A-League.

Sure, it doesn’t have all the answers, but attention should be paid as to how a once struggling league is now making headway in the US, which next to Australia, is the most competitive sporting market in the world.

The US has it a bit easier – 300 million people equates to a much bigger target to hit your niche.
But how do we improve, build on what we have and create what we don’t?

Building from the ground up, literally, seems to be a good starting point.

When it first started the MLS used NFL stadiums, and limited the capacity. Decent crowds rocked up… but decent crowds for the right sized stadiums – not 80,000 behemoths.

10,000 at Giants Stadium? You may as well have 10 there.

So gradually, the teams moved away from this, and into purpose built stadia with capacity’s usually around the 20,000 mark. Perfect.

We got a taste of it last season – AAMI Park. How good?!

Hopefully Sydney FC’s crowds pick up this season, but last season, it was sad to see a ¼ full stadium with dwindling atmosphere, despite the best efforts of the Cove. How good would it be to hear them in full voice, in a boutique stadium? Be great to hear it at the SFS, but that ain’t going to happen regularly anytime soon.

And Suncorp Stadium, the best place in the world to be on Grand Final night, but even the champions won’t command 50,000 each week. How good would it be to build on that to have a nice 20,000 seater joint rocking every second week?

So who might follow Melbourne’s lead and be next to get a boutique ground.

Gold Coast. Clive Palmer hinted as much a few weeks ago.

Now Clive’s said a lot of things since he’s been father of the A-League’s problem child, but this one makes so much sense.

Skilled Park on the Gold Coast is a dud. The ground itself is great. But week in, week out, it’s too far away, hard to get to.

A fortnight ago, it was reported Clive is investigating building his own. C’mon Clive. It’s not like you don’t have the Tonka trucks and Johnny Cash to do it. It wouldn’t make Gold Coast… hitting the grassroots scene in a now ultra-competitive sporting city is a big issue, but it would help.

Turning on to see 2,000 if that at a Gold Coast game on a Sunday is flat out embarrassing. It brings the league down. It’s like a giant zit on a teenager… Makes it feel insecure about itself.

The atmosphere at a ground is the one entirely, magnificent unique aspect of football, unlike anything else in Australia. All that exists elsewhere are over-zealous PA announcers and two syllable chants (OK, OK, three for Collingwood, well done Pies fans, you can count). That’s not a knock, just the truth.
Getting the atmosphere right, and the chance at getting a good atmosphere is imperative.

For instance, those who go to watch Kewell or Emerton purely for curiosity would get hooked.
Now’s not the time for Australian football to be missing out on opportunities.