After eighteen months of A-League Men action, and sport in general, being restricted by COVID, we all thought and hoped that it would go back to normal.
The 2021/22 season started off promisingly, but it all started going pear-shaped in match-week five, with the first postponement. Brisbane Roar vs Perth Glory was the unlucky recipient, and it set a dooming tone for the rest of the season.
A positive case in the Perth Glory camp meant all Glory games were postponed until the new year. This left their game against Adelaide United on December 23 cancelled as well.
Since that fateful day, over 20 further matches have been postponed in only a month.
When you look at which sides have suffered most from the postponement, it is clear as day that the current COVID situation has affected some worse than others.
Take the Newcastle Jets, for example. They have not played a game since December 19. With their scheduled F3 Derby being postponed, their next game isn’t until January 19.
A similar situation has arisen with the Brisbane Roar, who before their FFA Cup quarter-final loss, hadn’t played a game since December 11.
It also has worked the other way. Melbourne City was forced to play four games in 11 days at the start of the season. This was done in anticipation of their Asian Champions League schedule, squeezing all the games together.
Yet these postponements have left City only playing two league games since the Christmas Derby on December 18. Those four games in 11 days left City in a precarious position with fitness and burnout, such as the nature of those games being so close together.
While this is an A-League Men issue, these mass postponements have spread to other sports as well. The Men’s Big Bash League, as well as the AFLW, have both been impacted on and off-field with the sudden postponements.
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This has left us with the question of whether or not the league is now ‘fair’. Each team is now playing on their own schedule, with no continuity or consistency with the rest of the competition.
Although this has an impact on the clubs, this also has an impact on the fans and their enjoyment of the league. With the already dwindling crowd figures, the last-minute postponements and convoluted fixtures don’t help the situation.
The inconsistent nature of the fixtures doesn’t allow the fans to develop an attachment to the league. It doesn’t allow them to find their routine and their love for the competition. This isn’t a good thing for a competition that is already losing popularity.
Crowd figures have dropped, TV ratings have dropped, and this once booming league is falling further and further into a hole that they can’t escape from.
Fans have become increasingly frustrated by these postponements. This isn’t the first time they’ve had to deal with changing of the fixture either, with the news of the Big Blue being postponed from January 26. to January 25 catching many unawares.
While this was done to prevent a clash with the Socceroos vs Vietnam game, it’s yet another example of how fans are being left behind.
These frustrations have led to poor attendance. Take Melbourne Victory at AAMI Park as a case study.
On November 28, Victory hosted Brisbane Roar on a Sunday afternoon at AAMI Park to a reasonable attendance of 13,026 people.
Just over a month later, Victory hosted Adelaide Untied in the original rivalry, one of the biggest fixtures in the A-League, at AAMI Park in the same timeslot, to a measly crowd of 6,912. Despite the COVID-19 paranoia, this near-halving of the attendance clearly correlates to the lack of fixture continuity throughout the season.
Perhaps the only saving grace is that this lack of attendance allows for those who didn’t know the game was on or had made plans that interfered with the postponed match, to watch it on TV. The latter of the fixtures received 84,000 viewers on Channel 10. This is very comparable to the 146,000 the opening Sydney Derby got on week one of the season.
This returns us to the original point. Does this ruin the integrity of the competition?
Well, it depends on how you interpret the word ‘integrity’. Granted, all the games are still begin played at their original ground. No club has lost an opportunity to get points, so by that definition, no integrity has been ruined.
However, the fact remains that games are being postponed days before their scheduled kick-off. Some clubs have played nearly double the number of games that others have, while others have been left without competitive football for nearly a month.
Not only does it ruin the integrity of the league to some extent, it also removes the attachment. The competition is relying on hardcore fans to keep a sustainable and reasonable fan base, and these postponements are making it hard for fans to keep up with the fixtures.
The complicated nature of the fixture removes the structure that fans rely on and love. Not only is the integrity of the league being diminished, but the support for it is also.
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