Australian Sporting Crowds: Reality v Perception.

0 Submitted by on Thu, 04 April 2013, 22:28

If you just arrived from Mars you’d be forgiven for thinking that the A-League is the biggest drawing competition in Australia.

The recent success of first season ladder leaders Western Sydney Wanderers has provided no end of hyperbole regarding their place in the sporting landscape of this country.

I heard FFA CEO David Gallop say the other day it feels like “they’ve been in the competition for decades”. What a fascinating notion, considering the competition itself is about to close it’s 8th season.

He certainly hasn’t lost his touch, old Davey. Still sounds like a discharged frontal lobotomy patient.

His partner in crime, Phil Rothfield, is pushing the barrow after Gallop was sacked, I mean “mutually departed”, as NRL CEO. This has neutered Rothfield’s “scoops” on the NRL with his old buddy no longer able to leak from League HQ like a sieve.

Anyway, let’s separate fact from fiction. The hyperbole began back in late October:

So at that point the A-League was averaging 15,460, up 47% for the year after one month. As I recall, Craig Foster and co got a bit excited by this, claiming it was the death of the NRL and most other sports blah, blah, blah.

After all, they were averaging more than Brazil?!?

Well, things have changed a bit. The A-League finished with an average of 12,347 per game, which is still a very impressive 17.6% rise in crowds from the previous season (this excludes finals).

However, it has still yet to pass it’s high water-mark of 14,610 per game set in the 2007-08 season.

To be fair, there were only 8 teams in that season, and the total crowd number was 1,227,244 for the year. This season there has been a total of 1,666,875 people go through the turnstile, which is a record aggregate, and will climb with the finals.

The averages between clubs is what makes for the most interesting reading though.

FC up 57% (see ADP) … Victory up 14% (see Ange) … Jets up 10% (see Heskey). All the established clubs like Central Coast, Adelaide, Brisbane and Perth were pretty flat though, receiving no flow on effects from the imports to the A-League for their respective home games. The Heart and the Phoenix struggled a bit.

Obviously the Wanderers have had a big impact averaging 12,466. Despite the madness from every media outlet, that average is modest by NRL standards – a code maligned and reviled for their poor crowds and antiquated suburban grounds.

They would rank 14th above Penrith and Canberra. But when you consider the fact they have replaced the Gold Coast team, who averaged 3,438 last season, you can understand where a large part of the rise in averages comes from.

To this end, the Wanderers have effected a 263% increase on Gold Coast’s crowds.

So whilst the growth in A-League crowds this season has been impressive, the reason it looks so good is because of the low base it had to begin with.

Heck, even the Big Bash averaged more with 13,883 per match. And they dropped 23% from an average of 18,021 the year prior.

The NRL has just experienced it’s 5th largest aggregate round of crowds, following some big Easter turn-outs. The average gate is 18,308, up 11.5% after the first month, but this will drop.

How far it drops is the key, with the NRL surely keen to build on 2012’s average of 16,423.

In the 15-a-side game, there will be a few worried people. The recent success of the Reds has been pared back (-11%) as has the hapless Waratahs who have lost some 36% of their 2012 crowd average. The Force and Rebels are languishing on the ladder and at the gate, with the Brumbies proving a surprise packet with an average of 18,543 people each game, up 29%.

Overall though, Super Rugby in Australia is still averaging a healthy 19,142 per game, down slightly from 19,349 in 2012.

After only one round in the AFL, it’s a bit early to see how things will pan out there. But their usual season-opening blockbusters failed to surpass last years numbers, possibly as a result of splitting the games over two weekends.

But the AFL will average somewhere north of 30,000 per match this year.

So, when you sort through all the hysteria the A-League created this year, it has started and ended the year in last place among the Big 5 sporting codes in Australia.

It’s a little closer to 4th. How much closer seems to depend on who you listen to.



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