Football is a game of and for the people and it always has been. In Australia it has more participants than any other team sport with one of it’s best assets being it can be played in various forms by people of any size, background or ability.
That is except at the top of the game where the A-League is firmly under the control of the FFA and it’s media partners. Despite the promos that profess it’s all about the fans, the decisions made rarely reflect this.
Gimmick after gimmick is introduced by either the broadcaster or governing body from All-Star games to half time interviews and now the latest being face-offs – nothing to do with players switching faces with the opposition and adopting their traits which would actually be good viewing – but players lining up across from each other to create artificial tension. Football fans on social media have taken to voicing their displeasure at what some have described as a “cringeworthy” practice.
The Sydney derby nor the Melbourne derby need it. The fans at the derbies do fine generating a truly electrifying atmosphere all by themsleves. Football fans and teams don’t need interns in the marketing department or fans of other sports telling them how to do a derby.
The beauty of sporting rivalries is they spring up organically from the fans on the back of geographical and/or historical factors. You don’t need gimmicks to contrive them and attempting to manufacture passion or tension usually devalues the genuineness that already exist.
Now I wouldn’t recommend a coach listening to the fans for tactical or selection advice. I wouldn’t recommend players listening to fans (or commentators) on how to strike a ball or which club they should sign for. I would though recommend to broadcasters and governing bodies to listen to fans when it comes to match day experience and coverage. It is after all the fans that these thing are aimed at.
Of course there are bigger issues we need to address in our game but the fans have almost no way to affect or address them. However these so-called “small issues” do ultimately impact on the enjoyment of the total spectacle and are a chance for the fans to have a voice.
Fan engagement is always a phrase bandied about and one would assume listening to fans is part of that engagement. A quick browse of “face off” on Twitter will tell you all you need to know about the feelings of the fans on the matter.
Who are these gimmicks aimed at anyway? Are we trying to convert rugby league and Australian rules fans? I hardly think that a face-off, or Peking Duk blasting over the PA as players walk out is going to capture their imagination. Is it aimed at football fans who aren’t attending or watching games on TV? Gimmicks are not the key for these people either. Most of them have followed football long before the Aleague whether it was the NSL, overseas leagues, the national teams, or their local amateur club and they have a deep love and respect for the game.
The bastardisation and over commercialisation of the game needs to be addressed because it does put people off. The goodwill built up from “saving” football back in 2005 and providing an accessible league is starting to wear thin. People are becoming less and less tolerant of their game being transformed into a promotional campaign or marketing exercise.
The commercial realities of modern sport can not be ignored but there needs to be a balance struck which protects the sporting integrity of the league, game and spirit of competition. Treating fans like consumers and fan bases as markets must be at least toned down and calling the fans “members” is not fooling anyone. People are tired of buzzwords and marketing jargon they want to feel part of the process and a good way to make them feel that is by listening when they tell you they don’t like something.
Dictating to fans what is best for them or what they should enjoy is bound to end badly. Early signs this year are not so good with TV ratings down across the board from the same time last year. After the dip last year of ratings and attendances the downward trend needs to be halted with an important new TV deal on the horizon.
How about we try a new gimmick of actually listening to the fans? Show the current fans who love the game and have done so for many years that they and their opinions are valued, and not just monetarily valued. If the public and the game is shown the respect and integrity they deserve the rewards will come. Come on give that gimmick a go.