Taking a BIG step in the right direction

by Sebastian Hassett on Jun 08, 2011

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They say it's the off-season that moves slowly, but how about this one? This week we've had Socceroos play twice in 48 hours, the A-League fixture released, the Matildas' World Cup squad announced and the final fall-out from those disgusting episodes over in Zurich with FIFA.

But much as I could write a mountain of words for you about all the happenings of Sepp and his men, I'd like to focus on something a bit more positive.

Congratulations goes this week to the FFA for getting the A-League fixture as right as it has ever been. It's not an easy task putting together a decent draw but this is the best shape it's been in for some time.

It may seem like a trivial issue in some sense, especially so far out from the season proper, but something that has occurred to me in recent years is how much emphasis fans have placed on poor fixturing as a reason for their non-attendance at games - a core issue that is affecting the A-League.

My view is that we simply need to get as many bums on seats as possible, and that means cutting out as many excuses as possible. Heaven knows that while AFL fans actively make excuses to get to their games, football fans have no trouble wheeling out grown-up versions of the 'the dog ate my homework' when it comes to getting along to stadiums of their own.

The standard of football in Australia has never been this high - and I'm ready to include the mid-1990s NSL in making that assumption - yet the hype around the league is probably at an all-time low ebb. And unfortunately, that means people will use any excuse they can not to go.

Probably the best thing about the new draw is the timeslots. For example, the locked-in 8pm Friday night matches are a real boon for television, enabling fans to develop consistent viewing patterns. Let's hope that translates to some improved ratings.

The culture of playing home and away on alternating weeks has been a difficult concept for the league to grasp but it is something that football fans enjoy. The days of five home matches followed by five away matches has never been palatable for anyone. Also, the league appear to have listened to the club fans about when they like to watch their respective teams, and each market is different from other.

The thing I'm not too keen on is having so many the blockbuster matches pushed up front. What happens after that? The Sydney FC-Melbourne Victory match shouldn't ever be first up. Too many people won't even realise the A-League has begun.

Adelaide fans can surely feel aggrieved about not getting Melbourne Victory twice at home, while this 'Marathon Wednesday' idea threatens to fall in a heap because everyone will stay at home to watch the matches, rather than actually attend them.

Those grips aside, it's a good draw. Is it enough to get the fans coming back? Probably not by itself, but it's a step in the right direction.