Friday, October 27, 2006

Crowd size is important

Half the teams in the A-League play ten home games and the other half eleven. After round ten, six teams have played five games at home, Perth and central Coast only four, and Newcastle seven of their ten.

The franchise teams that had ten games last season get eleven this season and vise-versa.

The birth of the A-League had a significant impact on crowd sizes in the first half of last season and in the second half they tapered off a little. The victory against Uruguay and qualification to the world cup had no impact on crowd size.

Clubs are funded by sponsors, club activities (pokies), FFA distribution of Foxtel funding, FFA distribution of FIFA world cup performance funding, shareholders funds, merchandise, and gate-take. The FFA has rigid home ground requirements which, given stadium availability and costs, may advantage some clubs' cost structure over others. As a result, some clubs breakeven point for the home ground is much higher than others. For example, the Queensland Roar has been quoted as requiring 20,000 people to break-even at Lang Park, while clubs in smaller cities may only need 10,000 or less. In any case, reaching breakeven size crowd is key for each team to turn home grounds into positives for A-League and club sustainability. Further, together with the Foxtel audience, the gate take is a critical measure of the success of the A-League .

So how are we doing after round ten of a 21 round competition? Overall, crowds are up 35,252 on the same home fixtures last year. However, that improvement is largely down to the performance of Melbourne. Victory have already attracted 131,417 fans from five home games. This is an increase of 54,155 on its first five home games last year. Clearly, the Melbourne franchise has been a bonanza waiting for the team to hold together a winning streak and promote star players and major match-ups. I predict Melbourne will attract around 250,000 fans this season. Last season it put in 141,632. Sydney attracted 183,355. My prediction would be a great performance for Melbourne and well done to Geoff Lord for hanging in there and to the FFA for backing them last year. Victoria is looking like a great site for a new team next year. I would favour an all under 23 local squad.

Thanks to the grudge match with Melbourne in round nine, Sydney has attracted more fans (5,167) to its first five home matches than last season. Crowds from the first three home games were disappointing and only the 20,881 against Melbourne pulled it out of the negative compared to last season. However, Sydney has been a big contributor to crowds for its away games particularly the 39,730 achieved by Melbourne. And the Carbone appearances also helped the turn out for away games. Overall, Sydney has a long way to go to promote the gate take in NSW.

If the two leading crowd attractors from last season, Sydney (183,473) and Queensland (162,636) could each match Melbourne the future of the A-League would be secure. A range of major potential sponsors could no longer ignore the leading position of football as a participation sport and an expanded division, expanded Asian champions league, and most importantly, dramatically expanded salary cap would be viable. Harry (in a seat next to Joey Johns at Newcastle’s round 10 win) could come home.

No doubt Queensland Roar has the potential to move its crowds from the mid teens, to the twenties and ultimately to fill Lang Park (50,000). Melbourne has shown the way. I expect that Queensland will do what it takes to secure a top four spot this year. Queensland is 6% below last season’s first five rounds crowd. I put this down to a lack of major fixtures so far (it only plays Sydney once and on the last game of the season) and the unfortunate spreading of home games. It now has 4 in the next 6 games. What ever happened to one game at home and one away to build crowd interest? However, I expect the club to do what it takes to keep its average above 15,000 this season.

The smaller clubs from Newcastle, Adelaide and Central Coast all made the finals last season. Central Coast was able to build its crowd up to 12,000 for its last league game last year. While not matching this mark, Central Coast, despite some wet games and loses, have been able to increase its crowd year-on-year for the first four games by 6,000 in total. Adelaide has also increased its crown on last season by over 6,600. However, Newcastle is already down over 11,000 year-on-year for its first six matches. Its good performance this week may prove critical to the shape of its home crowd for the remainder of the season.

Perth is under the management of the FFA. It is 18% down on last year’s crowd for its four games. I feel that last year the home crowd’s expectations were built on the financial advantage that the one WA team had in the National Soccer League, building a powerful winning team. And the results from last year reflected an averaging out of that advantage as all states (bar NSW) were reduced to one team.

What can you say about NZ crowds? They were low last year and lower this year.

Home crowd stats

A-League Version 1
Home game 1 2 3 4 5 6
Qld 20,725 15,444 23,142 13,195
Adel 11,020 8,785 7,013 13,182
Syd 25,208 15,614 18,276 11,836
New 13,160 9,127 7,495 7,436 5,868 9,371
Perth 11,113 8,509 8,052 13,157
NZ 9,827 4,938 3,558 4,182
CC 5,917 5,261 9,313 6,494
Melb 17,960 13,831 11,010 18,260 16,201 13,239
Total 114,930 81,509 87,859 87,742 82,674 76,635

A-League version 2
Home game 1 2 3 4 5 6
Qld 20,606 15,517 16,143 16,061
Adel 8,785 11,474 10,493 11,600
Syd 19,274 15,488 17,274 20,881
New 7,304 7,276 7,961 7,309 4,635 5,725
Perth 7,229 8,052 7,983 9,978
NZ 4,100 2,107 2,764 1,632
CC 4,644 8,439 11,567 8,496
Melb 15,781 39,730 17,617 25,921 32,368
Total 87,723 108,083 91,802 101,878 37,003 5,725