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Tennis crowds aren’t the way to go

by Michael Huguenin on Jan 19, 2012

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Crowd numbers. You just can’t get away from them in the A-League.

Round 15 was a decent result in terms of attendances. Three matches got over the magic 10,000 figure, with Melbourne Victory’s clash against Adelaide United attracting just over 20,000. The average attendance for the round was 11,075.

Some people get sick of the focus (some would say obsession) of football fans when it comes to crowd figures. But I think it makes sense. Crowd figures are probably the most obvious way to assess the A-League’s health.

Big crowds bring in money. They generate positive press. Big crowds inspire even bigger crowds thanks to the atmosphere they generate. Finally, the bigger crowds encourage the players and can be used as a recruiting tool when clubs try to entice other players from abroad.

But in the past couple of weeks I’ve had two experiences that have reminded me that there is a line – a line that the A-League must avoid crossing.

Football clubs should try and entice new fans but only with football – not gimmicks.

Two weeks ago, I went to my first A-League match in almost two years. After 18 months in Europe, I saw my first game at the new stadium in Melbourne. I’d been looking forward to it for a long time. Melbourne Victory would take on Newcastle Jets.

I got into the stadium well before kick off and couldn’t help but notice the two stadium announcers who kept popping up on the big screen. Daniel Hartford (a former AFL player at Hawthorn) and some Scottish bird (who I’m guessing was hired just before Ernie Merrick was sacked to make him feel comfortable) yabbered on for at least half an hour.

I’ve seen stadium announcers at Victory matches before but the one thing that really ticked me off was their demands for crowd noise. It just felt so tacky and completely unnecessary.

Football is not basketball. The crowds at football matches can motivate themselves. They don’t need to be told to fire up.

Then it clicked for me. The stadium announcers weren’t there for the Blue and White Brigade or the other supporter groups. They were there for the one-time supporter, the ‘theatre-goers’ – crowd members who turn up to whichever new fads, events or shows that are available.

The stadium announcers were there to entertain the same type of people who flock to the Australian Open. And after going to the tennis yesterday, I’m certain they’re not what football needs.

The Australian Open isn’t about tennis. From the skin product stalls, to the free giveaways and the Lacoste tents, the Australian Open is a festival. It’s a family celebration of skin-deep beauty. That’s why the majority of tennis watchers are more interested in what the players are wearing than how well they’re hitting their forehand.

As I was walking around Melbourne Park, I started to wonder what A-League administrators would do to get a hold of some of these people. The first two days of the Australian Open have attracted almost 90,000 people in total. I started to picture Garnier booths at A-League matches. It’s a scary thought and I say no.

One of the best things about the A-League advertising campaign before this season was that it celebrated football and fans of the game. The ads were about getting to the stadium week-in, week-out and getting excited about your team and what they could do on the pitch.

The A-League, in its eagerness to attract more supporters and bigger crowds, needs to be careful it doesn’t just turn into a piece of easy entertainment. Football is a sport and a damn good one at that. If tennis is the ‘Home and Away’ of the sporting world, football should always be aiming to be like ‘The West Wing’ or ‘The Sopranos’.

There’s plenty of entertainment to be seen on a football pitch as it is. We don’t need cheesy half time competitions, stadium announcers or tacky giveaways.

Just get the best 22 players together that you can and let them show us what they can do. Let the crowd provide the colour and sound in the stands.

Then you’ve got a product everyone will want to be involved in.

Don’t sell your soul, A-League.