A-League supporter numbers grow – but 2 million football fans still unattached

Despite attendances dropping in A-League matches over the past few years, supporter numbers across the board have grown in the past 12 months, according to a recent Roy Morgan report.

“A-League clubs have enjoyed a substantial increase in support over the last year in line with the increases seen for other football codes such as the AFL and NRL,” Roy Morgan Industry Communications Director, Julian McCrann, stated.

“Over 3.6 million Australians now profess support for an A-League club, an increase of over 1 million (+38.3%) on a year ago.”

“As we have seen across other football codes the COVID-19 pandemic has forced many sports to be played in front of empty stadiums but live on TV to supporters stuck at home in the many lockdowns we have seen over the last 18 months around Australia.”

Sydney FC have the biggest supporter base with 640,000 fans according to the report, a 32% increase on last year’s numbers.

Melbourne Victory were also well placed on the supporter ladder, slightly behind Sydney with 632,000 fans, an increase of 46% on a year ago.

A-League Men’s champions Melbourne City and expansion side Macarthur FC also saw impressive numbers of increased support.

“Another big winner over the last year has been Melbourne City which won its first A-League Men Championship earlier this year after defeating Sydney FC in the Grand Final (between Melbourne’s fourth and fifth lockdowns) in late June,” McCrann said.

“Melbourne City’s support has increased by an impressive 50.9% on a year ago to 249,000 to have the highest support of any A-League Men expansion team.

“The newest club in the A-League Men, Macarthur FC, has had a successful first season in the league with a finals appearance, a victory in an Elimination Final, and a loss to eventual Champions Melbourne City in the semi-final.

“Not only has Macarthur FC performed strongly on the pitch but they have already attracted 84,000 supporters to rank in tenth place overall.”

Whilst all A-League sides saw an increase in supporters in 2021, Central Coast Mariners experienced the largest percentage rise from 2020 – with fan numbers growing by 90%.

In regards to television numbers, over 1.5 million Australians watch the A-League Men’s competition.

However, the report states that 3.5 million Australians watch any football match on television, including leagues such as the English Premier League or international tournaments such as the FIFA World Cup.

This represents a huge untapped audience of around 2 million Australians, something which should be capitalised on.

“Looking ahead, the challenge for the A-League will be to continue to grow the league in an increasingly competitive sporting market and find a way to connect with the millions of Australians who love their football but don’t presently engage with the A-League,” McCrann said.

“There are over 2 million Australians out there who watch high quality football competitions, such as the English Premier League, who are yet to become fans of the A-League. This at-hand market of 2 million Australians is a significant market for the A-League to target during the recovery from Covid-19.”

The Australian Professional Leagues (APL), the new body running the professional game in this country, have continually emphasised in their messaging that they want to target football fans of all types to engage with the local elite competition.

The organisation’s investment in a $30 million digital hub is set to play a big part in converting these fans into A-League supporters.

“It is the biggest single investment football has made in itself. It’s a $30 million investment into digital infrastructure and data infrastructure that will serve the football fan. It won’t be the home of Australian football; it will be Australia’s home of football,” Danny Townsend, Managing Director at the APL, recently told FNR.

“What it will deliver is content – audio-visual, editorial and everything else you need.

“Part of the reason we are doing that, and investing in what we are calling APL studios, is ensuring that by organising the football community in one place we are able to deliver the utility in their everyday lives and focus on how they choose to consume football. If you do that – they’ll keep coming back.

“You put great content in there, you serve it, and you will continue to understand that fan and all of their preferences.”

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Philip Panas is a sports journalist with Soccerscene. He reports widely on football policy and industry matters, drawing on his knowledge and passion of the game.

VAR to be introduced at AFC club competitions for next season

The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) has confirmed the implementation of the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) system across its revamped three-tier club structure as well as the inaugural AFC Women’s Champions League for the 2024/25 season.

The newly introduced AFC Champions League Elite, the top club competition in the confederation that comprises 24 of Asia’s best teams, will implement VAR from the league stage, which kicks off this September.

Meanwhile, VAR support for match officials in the AFC Champions League Two will be available from the Knockout Stage onwards. The competition, comprising 32 teams, is set to commence in September.

For the AFC Challenge League, which will feature 20 teams, the technology will come into play in the all-important Final in May 2025.

Lastly, the inaugural edition of the landmark AFC Women’s Champions League, which kicks off in October, will see the VAR system made available in the Semi-finals and Final, underscoring the Confederation’s commitment to supporting and developing women’s football on the Continent.

The AFC prepared for this VAR implementation for the 2024/25 season when they conducted the AFC VAR Course in Malaysia in 2023.

This Course consisted of 25 VAR officials across Asia who were taught the in’s and outs of the technology, as part of an effort to keep the Confederation’s match officials up to date with the latest technological advancements in refereeing.

Another workshop will be taking place in the coming months to ensure the VAR Information Officer’s (VIO) of each AFC country are also kept up to date with the technology.

Earlier this year, the AFC implemented the VAR system across all matches at the AFC Asian Cup for the first time, while also becoming the first Confederation to introduce the Semi-Automated Offside Technology (SAOT) system at the Continental Men’s national team level.

It is clear that the AFC have ambitions to remain a model Confederation that is always open for innovation as well as ensuring the success of its match officials on the biggest stages in world football.

As Asian club football prepares to enter a new era, it is vital that this VAR technology is introduced at all stadiums involved in the three competitions to ensure fairness.

After the Mariners success in the AFC Cup, it will be interesting to see how this new three-tier club structure allows Australian teams to compete further in these tournaments.

Paramount+ reveals 2024 A-League Men Grand Final broadcasting success

Paramount+ have released impressive numbers regarding how the A-League performed in the Grand Final digitally and on broadcast TV.

The A-League Men 2024 Grand Final reached 1.12 million Australians with audiences up 12% year-on-year.

It broke the previous record as the most-watched match on 10 and 10 Play and was very popular with the 16-39 age group, with it being the #2 program of the night.

The A-League Men’s and Women’s 2023/24 season reached a combined 5.72 million Australians across Network 10, 10 Play and Paramount+ which highlights the impact the new digital broadcast has.

The 2023/24 A-League Men’s season was up 16% on broadcast TV, 33% on 10 Play and 53% on Paramount+.

The Liberty A-League Women’s audiences grew 114% on 10 Play and 125% on Paramount+.

The A-League All Stars Men vs. Newcastle United, and A-League All Stars Women vs. Arsenal Women matches reached 557,000 Australians on 10.

Paramount Australia Sports Production Director Adam Cush said via media release:

“As the Home of Australian Football, Paramount is committed to our partnership with the APL and the growth of the A-Leagues.

“The Isuzu UTE A-League Men’s 2024 Grand Final was a testament to this dedication, drawing unprecedented viewership numbers and showcasing the power of football in Australia. It’s been a phenomenal season of action across Network 10, 10 Play, and Paramount+ and we can’t wait to do it again next season for the 20th anniversary of the league.”

Nick Bower, Paramount Australia’s General Manager of Ad Sales, explained the broadcast success of the season and specifically the Grand Final.

“The incredible passion exhibited by the Central Coast Mariners and Melbourne Victory, along with the record number of fans at Industree Group Stadium and the biggest ever audiences watching at home, highlight everything that makes football in this country extraordinary,” Bower added in a statement.

“We extend our gratitude to our partners and clients for their support and enthusiasm, as they too benefited from the impressive audiences this thrilling final series attracted.”

Commenting on the Grand Final and the 2023/24 season gone, A-Leagues Commissioner Nick Garcia described the success of the finals series and what the future has in store for the league.

“It’s been an incredible finals series with sold out crowds, record TV viewers and fantastic football, and what a way to cap it off with the highest ever Industree Group Stadium crowd and history being made on the pitch,” Garcia added via media release.

“As the curtain falls on an exciting season, we would like to thank our fantastic fans who showed up week in week out, contributing to an atmosphere that sets our game apart from the rest. We now look forward to what will be the 20th anniversary of the Isuzu UTE A-League Men and another phenomenal season of A-Leagues action.”

Digitally, the A-League is seemingly popular, with it being named the second most engaging sport by YouGov in 2023. Specifically the 18-34 age range in that study were by far the most engaged, insisting there is a future audience for the league.

The future of Paramount+, 10 and 10 Play past 2026 is still up in the air, but the numbers are encouraging, and the A-League finals series provided an insight into there being interest in the local game for a feasible future.

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