Sunday, May 10, 2015

A-League must learn from NRL mistakes

The 2014 A-League Grand Final had an attendance of 51,153.

The A-league was last night gifted its dream grand finale after Sydney FC powered past Adelaide United in unstoppable fashion. Sydney will join Melbourne Victory for arguably the A-league’s biggest grand final in its ten year history. The league’s two most prevalent teams in that time, who share the game’s strongest rivalry, are set for a showdown like never before. Both teams have been riding a wave of momentum and are the deserving finalists after finishing the regular season in the top-two spots. The only thing stopping the day becoming one of the most memorable in Australian sport’s history is the capacity of the host stadium, AAMI Park, of 30,500.

To put it simply, the game must be moved.

Shifting the game to the MCG would not only allow all the Victory and FC fans to watch their teams, but open the event up for the everyday sports fan and leisure seeker’s of Melbourne. The move could potentially result in upwards of 100,000 people in attendance. A spectacle of that size would cement the A-League alongside the biggest sporting codes in the country. Over the last 10 years the A-League has been building to this moment. The international marquee signings, the All Star games against European clubs, the moments’ only football can provide, the battles between the clubs and the impact of the Western Sydney Wanderers have all contributed to the sport now being on the verge of sitting alongside the NRL and AFL in terms of popularity.

Only one man has the power to change the course of Football history in this country forever, and that’s Football Australia CEO David Gallop. Since Gallop joined the FFA in 2012, he has been lauded by many in the game for finally pushing the sport in Australia to match that of its world status. While the accolades may well deserve a pat on the back, surely this is the golden opportunity for the CEO to put a stamp on his sport like no other could.
The real question to be asked is whether Gallop has learnt from his mistakes? You see, back in 2009 when Gallop was the CEO of the NRL, he encountered a similar situation involving finals-matches stadium allocations.

The Parramatta Eels had rode a wave of momentum from last second last place on the competition ladder mid-year, to scrape into eighth place and earn a spot in the finals. At the time, the Eels were drawing supporters out of the closest like never before, the Dragons too had just won the minor premiership and fans were flocking to their games. Set to play each other in the first week of the finals, the game was set down to be hosted at the 23,000 capacity Kogarah Oval. The location would effectively lock-out thousands of supporters from both teams, and Rugby League would be robbed of an incredible match-up that would have filled the 45,000 seat Allianz Stadium. Despite an outpouring of complaints from fans and a fierce media campaign, the Gallop-ran NRL decided not to switch to a bigger stadium. That match would be the start of a driving force that eventually led to the changing of the NRL finals stadium policy. Two years later it was changed; three years later Gallop was thrown out of his chair.
The MCG has a capacity of 100,000. Isn't the idea to grow, year on year?
While many will argue that it’s too late to change such a big game, that the idea was already looked at and deemed unfeasible, but what do good leaders do? They make things happen. They get things done. The AFL will argue they have a game scheduled at the MCG, but who owns the MCG? Surely the Victorian Government can be lobbied to force a change. Imagine the economic benefit from a 100,000 plus crowd, many from interstate. If the AFL needs compensating to switch their game, then pay it.

The FFA last week unveiled a 20 year master plan for the sport, a strategic vision for the future. Well you won’t get to the future without actions in the present. Having a sold-out MCG for a match that has been building for the last ten years, would be like pouring petrol onto the already well alight fire that is the sport of Football. With over 80,000 expected to fill ANZ stadium next month to watch A-League teams play EPL giants Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea F.C, a 30,500 crowd for the country’s domestic competition grand final could be considered laughable and embarrassing.
Make the move, Gallop.