Pandemic or not, something must be done about crowd numbers in Australia
Australian football is again being harmed by COVID-19, with matches being postponed across the country and some even being forced to be played behind closed doors.
After a tumultuous pre-season, the 2021-22 A-League Men season kicked off with some genuine excitement across the country.
A new TV deal with Channel 10 and Paramount+, a new logo, and even a new song for the A-Leagues created a sense of optimism amongst Australian football fans.
But getting those fans back into stadiums has been an issue once again, following two seasons previously affected by COVID-19.
Excluding those two previous COVID-19 affected seasons, there have only been three times in the past ten years that the A-League Men average attendance has dropped below 10,000 in the opening round.
Round 1 of the current campaign saw an average attendance of 10,544.
But since then, the numbers have plummeted hard.
Over the next three rounds, there were averages of 6599, 6534, and 6058, respectively.
The highest attendance this season came back in Round 1, the Sydney Derby recording a total viewership of 23,118 at the ground.
That week also saw the third-best attendance so far this season, with a crowd of 17,198 at Perth's clash with Adelaide United witnessing the debut of marquee signing Daniel Sturridge.
Meanwhile, the Melbourne Derby in Round 5 holds the second-best attendance, with 19,640 people in the stands witnessing the pulsating 2-2 draw.
Sturridge warms up in front of a huge crowd during Perth's clash with Adelaide United. (Getty Images)
Despite the new TV deal, some massive off-season signings, and a prolonged absence from football for Australian fans, the numbers are still concerning.
The A-Leagues is currently the only live football code in Australia.
Yet, it is struggling on Metro TV, with a national audience of just 146,000 (102,000 Metro) tuning in for the Round 1 Sydney Derby.
It is the A-League Men's best Metro start in five years, but it is still nowhere near the 215,000 it saw during the 2014-15 season.
Macarthur and Western United have failed to break the 5,000 attendance mark on multiple home games.
Only Western's Round 1 clash against the Melbourne Victory broke that barrier, with an 8,120 attendance.
The Bulls have an average attendance of 2,934, whilst United's average attendance is 4,082.
Macarthur and Western also hold the lowest attended games of the season.
The Bulls only drew 1,188 to their clash against the Wellington Phoenix - although relocated to Newcastle - whilst Western drew just 2,353 people to their match against Adelaide United at AAMI Park.
Those two fixtures were away from Campbelltown Stadium and GMHBA Stadium, respectively, the two sides' primary home stadiums, but the numbers are still alarming low.
Looking elsewhere, Wellington, though away from home, is struggling with crowd numbers.
However, when they (hopefully) return to New Zealand, the expectation is for fans to pack out Sky Stadium, particularly after 24,105 showed up for the return match last season against Western United.
Wellington are struggling to draw big crowds after being relocated to Wollongong again. (Getty Images)
To an extent, the pandemic is causing the lower crowd numbers at the start of the 2021-22 season.
But there are deeper-lying issues that are corrupting crowd numbers.
Too many fans aren't feeling a real connection to their clubs, and not enough community work is being done to encourage fans to go to games.
Oh, and active support still seems to be viewed with a distaste by the APL, despite the return of Melbourne Victory's North Terrace.
The A-League Men attendances right now are coming nowhere near the absurd numbers we witnessed many years ago.
Macarthur and Western, as previously touched on, are two prime examples of this inability to cater for their fanbases.
Both teams are struggling to connect and become intertwined with those in their community, whilst the absurd pricing of Macarthur's tickets is the most expensive in the A-League Men.
A family ticket to a match - two adults and two children - will take $125 out of the pockets of supporters, whilst the cheapest single junior ($28) and single concession ($35) tickets are also set at a high price.
General admission for home and away fans isn't cheap either, with a single adult ticket costing $45 before fees.
Meanwhile, away fans are charged over $50 for a ticket at Campbelltown Stadium.
The Western Sydney Wanderers active supporter group, the RBB, doing the Poznań. (Getty Images)
"It is habits. People have changed their habits," Australian Professional Leagues CEO Danny Townsend told SEN 1170's Breakfast with Vossy last month.
"Tentpole sporting activities and events will always drive [an] audience because they are one-offs, they are unique.
"But when you are talking about the habitual type of commitments which being a member of a football club or a fan of a BBL team is, you turn up every week and support your team.
"Those things I think are going to take some time to reset.
"We have got to work towards delivering a good quality product, and continue to put it in front of as many people as we can and have them engage more often."
The APL should prioritise active support to regain the level of interest and the peaking of crowd numbers that we saw during the 2013-14 season.
That season saw a 13,041 average attendance overall, and 45,202 attended the Melbourne Derby between the Victory and Melbourne Heart.
Adelaide United's active supporter group the Red Army is not the force it once was. (Jordan Trombetta)
Ticket prices, a lack of engagement with active support, and several other factors keep turning fans away and diminishing their interest in the world game.
A better model needs to be implemented to regain the fans that both the A-League Men and Women competitions have lost in recent times.
Changes need to be put in place right away, like capping the prices of home and away tickets at an amount that will not price fans out of matches.
Meanwhile, clubs such as Western United need to dive deeper to connect with their community and garner more fans.
It might even help them increase their stature as a club.
A failure to take action will lead to more underwhelming attendance numbers across the country, thus sending Australian football further into the abyss.