Sunday, October 02, 2011

Grassroots: who they are, why they come and where they went...

Soccer clubs all over Australia see themselves as masters of the grassroots and sit waiting in their club houses for their local A-League team to see the apparently obvious and come knocking. In the absence of this knock, they carry on.

The A-League grassroots are the untapped crowd potential.

Families that enrol their kids at the local have taken a step that indicates that they are interested in watching the sport. But for most, after a few years it becomes a fleeting interest, as they waver from watching their children play, to dropping them off and leaving a bare skeleton of people to run the club and show support for the team on game day. Some clubs appear to be run by people who once had children playing there, but now are grown up and off doing other things.

Beyond the very early teenage year or two, the soccer clubs lack their own grassroots. But hope that the A-League will bring it.

Live game A-League fans have their own lifecycle. Some come and go for one match of one season, perhaps riding the success or star attraction of the local team. The grassroots fan base commence as parents, or teenagers draw into the game. For children their special dedication to the sport may start by being taken to games by an enthusiastic parent or two, then breaking out with their teenage mates to enjoin the tussle of a supporters group, before dropping out as other priorities take over. The A-League is not old enough to see whether they will bring their life partners and children back to re-live their early experiences. Perhaps this cycle is 5 to 10 years. We are now getting to the upper limit of that timespan.

The foundation A-League teams have touched most of the potential fans in their cities. The Roar, for example, has probably has had more fans than other A-league teams have fans - remember the 30,000 plus fans for Roar v Sydney games in season one? A mass of people have come and gone.

Melbourne Victory have perhaps held onto its fans more effectively than other teams. Roy Morgan's research shows Melbourne's fans are most likely to support more than one sport. And Melbournians seem more likely to go to games.

The Roar churns its fans, holding only a very small base of members. These poeople are really season ticket holders rather than members.

In Brisbane the grassroots are out watching the rugby league. These are the people likely to buy and stick to a local team. They are also more likely to watch only one sport.

Around 1.3 million people support the Broncos, a group larger than the city (1 million people) and 240,000 of them go to a game each year. The Broncos have been around for about 20 years and are owned by News Corporation. Only 60,000 of the Bronco's supporters will go to any form of soccer game in a year - and that is probably to watch the kids or the national team. This is a very small base for Brisbane's grassroots to convert to regular Roar fans. Having said that NRL is struggling to keep its fans (see Roy Morgan research).

The NRL has experienced growth of 3.8% of fans in 10 years. But this is after recording 930,000 new fans in Townsville, Gold Coast and South Sydney, and it is interesting to see that the Gold Coast and Townsville teams have around the same number of fans. Looking at the detail shows that the NQ Fury did well relative to the early days of NQ Cowboys (114,000 total fans in 2001) and that the Cowboys fan base is well down on its 2006 peak of 613,000 fans at only 376,000. Otherwise the NZ Warriors are an NRL success story going from 109,000 fans in 2001 to 204,000 in the lead up to today's grand final.

The other NRL standouts since 2001 are the decline of the Newcastle Knights (minus 39%) and Cronulla Sharks (minus 43%). The Knights and the Jets share the same owner.

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