A-Leagues criticised by football fans for Sydney grand final location decision

Home Sports A-Leagues criticised by football fans for Sydney grand final location decision
A-Leagues criticised by football fans for Sydney grand final location decision

The Australian Professional Leagues (APL) has signed a new deal that will see their showpiece grand finals — the A-League Men, A-League Women, and E-League – hosted in Sydney for the next three years.

The deal with Destination NSW, which is worth a reported eight-figure sum and will run until the end of 2025, was announced on Monday and almost immediately received backlash from football fans outside of Sydney, as well as many within it.

Traditionally, the highest-ranked team in Australia’s top football leagues earns the right to host the grand final, with the home-ground advantage and local fanbase seen as a reward for their season-long efforts.

This model has seen the A-League Men grand final taken to all five major cities around Australia, with Sydney having hosted just three of the past ten men’s deciders, as well as four of the last ten in the women’s competition.

The Seven highest-attended grand finals in the ALM’s 18-year history have all occurred outside of Sydney: Perth in 2019 (56,371), Melbourne in 2007 (55,436) and 2009 (53,273), Brisbane in 2014 (51,153), 2012 (50,334) and 2011 (50,168), and Adelaide in 2016 (50,119).

But the APL has decided to scrap this and instead follow the model of rival codes like the NRL and AFL, which have single-city grand final hosting arrangements regardless of the teams that make it there.

“This is a unique opportunity to build a tradition for football fans,” APL CEO and former Sydney FC boss Danny Townsend said.

“When you think about a cup final in England, you think about the trip to Wembley, and we want fans in Australia to look forward to the A-Leagues finals in the same way.

“The FIFA World Cup 2022 showed that we are a country of football fans and whet the region’s appetite for the FIFA Women’s World Cup next year. But fans don’t want to wait for four years in-between competitions to see our best sporting talent perform.

“Football fans now get the best of both worlds: they can now look forward to a showpiece Grand Final event in a set location, as well as watching A-Leagues and national team stars week-in, week-out at their local A-Leagues team.”

There are benefits to a set location for the A-Leagues grand finals.

Having greater certainty around the deciders’ destination means fans are able to plan further in advance, including booking flights and accommodation, with the APL intending to work with transport and hotel chains “to develop special packages for travelling fans […] to offer a special discounted rate”.

The intention is to create a “national event” for football, akin to the AFL grand final, with fans of the sport — regardless of club loyalties — attracted to Sydney to take part in a “Festival of Football” that not only involves the grand finals themselves, but also a host of other football-related events and activities.

There is also an argument that the agreement forms part of football’s wider need to create stronger relationships with state and federal governments. Figures from the 2021/22 Australian Sports Commission Annual Report showed that football received less government funding ($7.9m) over the reporting period than several other sports including athletics ($10.7m), basketball ($8m), cycling ($14.5m), hockey ($9.8m) and sailing ($9.5m), despite football being the highest participation team sport in the country with roughly 1.14 million people involved.

ABC Sport understands the APL plans to create a two-week break between the two semi-finals and the final, giving fans — especially of the qualified teams — more time to make arrangements.

Every member of an A-Leagues club will be given priority when it comes to ticket purchases.

The women’s grand final will take place on April 30, with the men’s grand final slated for June 3, with both expected to be played in either the Sydney Football Stadium or Western Sydney Stadium.

There are no intentions to host grand finals in other NSW-based stadiums, such as Macarthur or Newcastle.

“With the FIFA Women’s World Cup coming and on the back of the Socceroos historic World Cup in Qatar, football in Australia has never been stronger,” NSW Minister for Sport Alister Henskens said.

“NSW is home to the most clubs in the A-Leagues competition, with the greatest supporter base, most passionate fans, the highest level of football participation and the best football venues, including Australia’s largest rectangular football stadium.

“This new week-long football event will provide football and sports fans with an experience unique to all other codes and cement the A-League Grand Finals amongst the very best sporting events on our national sporting calendar.”

However, given the rising cost of living and interstate travel, the prospect of non-Sydney-based fans forking out thousands of dollars to watch their team contest the grand final is arguably lower.

It’s understood fan focus groups were consulted on the decision before it was made over 12 months ago, with the APL fielding many of the same questions and criticisms that are being aired on social and mainstream media platforms in light of the announcement.

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