Record-breaking attendances for the opening weekend of the A-League prove it's time to seriously think about expanding the league further.
The A-League season began with the highest attendance for a single round as 106,365 fans turned up around the country. The Sydney Derby broke the record for a single match as 61,880 filled ANZ Stadium on Saturday night.
With popularity at an all-time high and 11 seasons of solid foundation, it’s time to seriously consider expanding the competition to other areas of the country. Australia’s football map needs completing.
As football continues to grow in Australia, it’s imperative opportunities are taken to continue the progress. There was always competition with other sports when the A-League started in 2005 but now football could go where other sports haven’t been able to in Australia.
There are three places in Australia that are calling out for a top class sporting team- Canberra, the Northern Territory and Tasmania. None of those places are saturated with teams from Australia’s other major sporting leagues- the AFL, NRL, Super Rugby, or domestic cricket. The chance is there for the A-League to get a head start if it is bold enough.
Canberra already has a rugby league and rugby union franchise, so, out of the three locations it is the most saturated market. However, in nearly every other developed footballing nation the capital city has a professional football team and that incentive should be enough in itself for the A-League to expand to Canberra. Football would be the summer sport of choice for Canberra locals to attend.
The Northern Territory might be a bigger challenge but it would also be a unique opportunity to spread football and take top-level professional sport. With no other teams from any of the other big leagues in Australia, there is huge potential for a team in Darwin to really gather a big following, even from people who aren’t traditional football fans. The climate may pose problems over the summer months, but football is played in many hot places globally and clever planning could make it work.
Tasmania is in a similar situation to the Northern Territory in that it lacks teams from the biggest leagues. Cricket is the only sport that has a Tasmanian presence outside the Apple Isle and an A-League team in Hobart or Launceston would have great potential to grow. Climate-wise, the cooler weather would be a perfect environment to play football.
Crowd numbers might take time to grow in these areas but there is a unique opportunity to get into new markets before some of the other codes do. Football is the world game and Australia’s sporting map seems incomplete until football’s presence is in every corner of the continent or failing that, in every state and territory. The A-League can make those three places its own.