A winter calendar would align the A-League not only with Asian leagues but the state-based competitions throughout Australia, removing one of the major obstacles to the ultimate goal of a top-to-bottom football pyramid with promotion and relegation.
Where 12 months ago I would have said definitively ‘no, that’s the craziest thing they could do’, because of the shape it’s in now, it is time to rethink things.
Colin Smith, head of consultancy Global Media & Sports
It would also present a raft of significant challenges, not least the availability of stadia during AFL, NRL and Super Rugby season, and the prospect of being drowned out in media space by rival sports. Those are the chief reasons why a switch is not on the A-League’s radar and viewed as completely unworkable by FFA, as well as the fact that current broadcasters Fox Sports would almost certainly not be supportive.
But with the A-League’s television ratings and attendances on a concerning downward trajectory, and the competition failing to capitalise on the “clear air”of summer, the time is nigh for some “out-of-the-box thinking” and research, according to broadcast rights advisor Colin Smith.
“You’re being swamped as it is,” Smith, the head of consultancy Global Media & Sports, told the Herald.
“Where 12 months ago I would have said definitively ‘no, that’s the craziest thing they could do’, because of the shape it’s in now, it is time to rethink things.”
Smith, who has brokered numerous deals between broadcasters and sports for over 20 years, believes it could be that European leagues in England, Spain and Italy are the A-League’s biggest competitor for viewership and fan engagement, not the AFL or NRL.
“Right now, as a broadcast, fan engagement product, the A-League is probably the worst its been since its inception,” Smith said.
“If I was the A-League, I’d think it’s time to do a really detailed and comprehensive analysis of the business case [for playing in winter] and it’s something I’d be talking to broadcasters about.
“It could be then attractive to an Optus to then say, ‘wow, that means we can actually have wall-to-wall football 12 months of the year, we become the home of football in Australia’.”
Professional Footballers Australia chief executive John Didulica is also supportive of broaching what he said was an “incredibly complex” topic.
The old National Soccer League switched to summer for the 1989-90 season, primarily to escape the long shadows of the AFL and NRL – a decision Didulica said has largely proved to be incredibly successful.
Didulica acknowledged a move back to winter would have profound implications for grassroots football and facilities access, but he said no long-term plan for the sport would be complete without a thorough examination of which is the most optimal season window for football.
“These are the discussions we need to have,” Didulica said. “The broadcast deal’s up in 2023. The question is whether it gets tied into a bigger discussion around the integration of our football vision.
“Ultimately, we want to be selling our best product. That’s the way to maximise value. If we’re looking ahead 15, 20, 30 years, are we putting ourselves in a position where it’s impossible to deliver a product of requisite quality as well as managing player welfare issues?
“With so many other things in flux, I think it’s a really timely opportunity to reset and discuss everything. There should be no policy matter that can’t be revisited over the next two or three years.”
The current A-League regulations allow for games to be moved when forecasts exceed a prescribed “Wet Bulb Globe Temperature” reading, but players and fans often complain that the threshold is too high.
“It’s just a lot more physically demanding,” Sydney FC midfielder Paulo Retre said after Saturday’s 2-1 win over Adelaide United, which was played in draining 35-degree heat at Kogarah.
“You make a couple of runs and you just feel out of breath. Things that you think maybe you could normally get to or you feel like you could be in the right position, you’re just maybe not there.
“To be honest, it is tough. Whether [the answer is] scheduling games on a different day or even a time change, I’m not sure, but today it was really tough.”
Vince is a sports reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.