Yesterday I started picking through the televising of this years ASB Premiership, the issues of small crowds in big venues and a little more besides. Let’s pick up where we left off.
Televising the ASB Premiership is good, but it won’t expand the game’s presence without an atmosphere to match. If football, as a live experience, is to be presented to the non-footballing population of New Zealand then it must be in terms of New Zealand’s football experience.
Presenting the game as a cargo cult of the Premier League or A League misses out on the authenticity of Kiwitea St, Fred Taylor Park, John Kerkhof, Cambridge and elsewhere, the real number 8 wire grounds. Transplanting crowds from those authentic grounds into larger, identity-free stadiums, where they fill maybe one side or one block, only dilutes the ‘product’ you’re attempting to offer.
TV came to football overseas because it already drew crowds. But those crowds had to be earned over time. It’s important to remember that the ASB Prem sides are babies, practically newborn in comparison to other clubs. Look eleven years into the lifespan of any club, globe striding superpower or otherwise, and you can be certain they were drawing a fraction of what they do now.
On current attendances ASB Premiership sides need to be playing in grounds of a 3,000 to 5,000 capacity until they can draw crowds which fill those venues. I applaud NZF for getting the game televised because it will bring in a bigger audience. However it’ll be interesting to compare games at the 25k+ venues with those at the Bluewater, David Farrington or Gower Park to see which one ‘feels’ right for NZ football.
NZ football needs its own identity, it’s own Kiwi edge to it, to get people interested. So, instead of looking to the Premier League or even the A League as a model, we should be looking towards countries and associations in a similar situation to New Zealand. Leagues which find themselves in competition with the Premier League, either directly or as part of the worldwide TV deals.
In many way, the ASB Prem issue is similar to the challenge facing non-league clubs in the UK. They, too, are in competition with televised product and need to get people from their homes to the ground, which is a huge hurdle all by itself. FC United and AFC Wimbledon have their own unique circumstances, but there are plenty of clubs grafting hard away from the bright lights of the media.
That’s not to say televising games won’t help. I’m not intending to bag on NZ Football for getting the ASB Premiership, in terms of support a niche sport, on Sky TV. Their long term plan for the development of the league and creating an open league structure isn’t just admirable, it’s utterly necessary. Closed leagues avoid relegation which is a huge driver of competition, it engages supporters, it adds tension to games which otherwise have little meaning beyond ordering those who didn’t win the league. Having something to play for, whether it be a shiny trophy or not getting dumped out of the league, is important.
So there’s a contradiction there, isn’t there? I’m saying that NZ Football needs to stop trying to create a structure like the already established Premier League or A League, because they emerged after nearly a century of football. But at the same time, I’m saying it needs to have the features of the underlying national league structures in those systems in order to allow clubs to develop, grow, rise and fall. Well, that and because Fifa demand it.
But I’d argue that there’s no contradiction there, that the revenue rich form of football business practiced by the Premier League is the product of the stable league structure over time, the development and support of clubs within the structure. If NZF want to create the conditions for the richness of the Kiwi game, they need to ensure clubs develop on and off the pitch. You don’t get the chook that lays the golden egg unless you look after all of your chook. So the model they go with must ensure stability for clubs, competitiveness from top to bottom in the leagues, but it’s also going to have to look at building and growing support. Again, see you tomorrow for Part 3.
You can find me @mrduttonpeabody. Today’s post title came from here…
John Palethorpe lives in South Auckland which is very far away from Fratton Park and Champion Hill. Having been told there was no football in New Zealand, he was delighted to find that there is.