The 2012-13 A-League season is off to a great and historic start.
Football Federation Australia reported at the beginning of the week that a total of 93,500 fans attended the first five contests of the campaign that took place this past weekend. That mark shattered the old record of 79,850, a figure that was met during the 2011-12 season. While big-name players familiar to football fans around the world such as Alessandro Del Piero and Emile Heskey made their A-League debuts, it was a match that featured no such superstar summer signings that drew in a tremendous and noteworthy crowd. Over 42,000 people made their way to Etihad Stadium for the Melbourne derby that saw Heart defeat Victory 2-1.
Melbourne Victory will obviously struggle (and fail) to reel in 42k for each league match, but that fact doesn't diminish the overall attendance figures for the first week of what is to be another important season for a league that's still trying to establish its existence. The 18,700 average attendance for this past weekend's contests is just slightly above the 18,517 average attendance for Major League Soccer contests. That average is from the end of September and doesn't include this past Sunday's Seattle vs. Portland match that attracted a crowd of over 66,000.
The good news for the A-League doesn't stop at attendance figures. Sources such as The Australian reported on Tuesday that a record amount of TV viewers tuned in to watch the first week of league contests. According to that story, an average of over 108,000 people watched the five matches that aired on Australia's FOX Sports (one live A-League game per weekend airs in the middle of the night ET in the United States on FOX Soccer). The Melbourne derby was again the big stats winner, drawing in a weekend-high 129,000 viewers.
Just as with the attendance figures, television viewership for the first weekend of the 2012-13 A-League campaign mirrored MLS numbers that were released earlier this year. It was reported at the midway point of the 2012 MLS season that an average of about 121,000 viewers were tuning in for league matches being shown on NBC Sports Network. League matches airing on either ESPN or ESPN2 were averaging 345,000 viewers at that time.
One week does not make or break a league's fortunes, of course, but nobody can blame those within FFA for being very excited about the figures mentioned above. Every fan of the A-League is well aware of the organization's financial woes. Making money is a concept and dream and not much more. Gold Coast United are no more. Football supporters in the United States who are frustrated with MLS (for a variety of good reasons) really don't know how good they have it.
Friends of mine have often delivered "why should we care?" responses whenever I've produced posts on or mentioned the A-League. The answer to that question is quite simple. It does nobody any good when a club or league fails to the point that it disappears. I root hard for the A-League if only because the organization gives more individuals an opportunity to make a living playing, coaching and commenting on football.
It would be unfair and inaccurate for multiple reasons to say that the A-League is a younger brother of MLS. Those two leagues are more like distant cousins who meet up once at year during the holiday season. With that said, the two definitely share multiple traits. Both are overshadowed by different types of football, both have seen clubs come and go, and both have struggled to gain respect from international fans.
Both are also taking steps in the right direction.
It will be interesting to see how things go for A-League attendance and television ratings as the season progresses. Football fans located in and out of Australia should be very pleased about what we've seen thus far. So what if those of us in the United States have to DVR matches or stay up until 4:00 am once a weekend in order to actively follow a league? Being a sports fan is largely about sacrifice.