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Opinion

Why have fans deserted the greatest A-League season in history?

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The general uncertainty hovering above the A-League like a dark cloud has adversely affected attendance and viewer figures, but the fans at large should be patient and remember that this is effectively a season of transition designed to take the game to the next level.

The league is doing its best to manage a competition that has been hit from pillar to post by the ravages of COVID-19.

Despite all the hurdles it has to deal with, however, the 16th professional championship of Australia continues to deliver in spades.

And yet it has been forced to grapple with a demoralising dilemma: why are fans not supporting the competition when the football provided is so rich and captivating?

This championship surely will go down as the best in the A-League's history in terms of the quality of football displayed but it is struggling big time for crowds and eyeballs.

There is no standout explanation for such a downturn in a season that has risen from the COVID-19 chaos to provide marvellous entertainment every week.

Football fans must have lost count of the number of memorable matches and jaw-dropping goals that keep adorning this season's competition.

Even some of the goalless draws have been great to watch ... it's that sort of season, you see.

Foreign stars like Milos Ninkovic, Alessandro Diamanti, Ulises Davila and Diego Castro have added glamour to the tournament while exciting young players continue to be unleashed onto the professional game with startling success.

So much for the claim that we are not producing young talent any more.

And if that is not enough, we even have an uplifting Central Coast Mariners fairytale to savour.

The million-dollar question therefore is why this overall revival has not translated into a surge in support from the fans.

Roughly 12 rounds into the season, the crowd average is just under 6000 a game, which is very disappointing even when you consider the coronavirus restrictions, crowd limitations and the lockdowns in some of our cities.

Television figures are not as straight-forward due to the emergence of streaming services like Kayo but it is safe to assume that reports suggesting a drop in viewer figures are correct.

One of the main reasons fans at large have become reluctant to commit to buying memberships or buy tickets on the day might be the uncertainty surrounding the competition.

Government restrictions have hit the clubs hard since they could not sell as many season tickets as before because members were unsure if they would be able to watch the matches they had paid for.

Others may have thought that, with such restrictions in place, it is not completely safe to go to public places to watch sport.

Which is probably why thousands of fans across the country have not renewed their club membership.

The league has been forced to release its fixtures in dribs and drabs due to the fluctuating health situation in several states, so thousands of fans have been unable to plan ahead.

The newly formed Australian Professional Leagues is not panicking, however, and is adopting a rational approach to this fragmented season.

It acknowledges that this is a transitional season governed by massive uncertainties over which it has no control, very much like the ones club or national teams undergo when they feel the need to rejuvenate. Success cannot be instant so there will always be a period of transition until the old morphs into the new.

Which is why those fans who might have been inclined to abandon the league because of its uncertainty would be advised to stick around, be patient and tolerant and recognise that the independent league organisation is doing its best to make the competition better and stronger when it emerges from the crisis sparked by the pandemic.

There is also another point worth mentioning. It is no secret that the league is not exactly satisfied with Fox Sport's overall performance in its last commitment to football that expires at the end of the season in June.

Club officials are believed to be quietly confident that, if the standard of play keeps rising like it has done this season and a new television deal to grow the game is sealed "imminently", the new competition will be a hit.

The league deserves credit for making sure we have a competition to cherish despite the obvious difficulties emanating from every corner.

And, to be fair, it deserves our full and unconditional support.

This is not the time for criticism. Let's get through this maelstrom first.

Source SBS The World Game