Inaugeral A-League calls for more public support

The new face of Australian ‘round-ball’ football was revealed yesterday at the official launch of the inaugural A-League season. The message from Frank Lowy, the Football Federation of Australia's chairman and FFA CEO, John O'Neill, to media and VIP guests was, “support this league or it will die”.

"What we need now is support, Australia's support. We need bumper crowds. We need that support otherwise no matter what we do and what we did, it's just not going to work. The players are ready. The management is ready. The boards are ready. You are ready. So what we need now is the support, Lowry said.

Just over 10 months since the structure of the new competition was formalised, the lack of television exposure has been rectified by a deal with Fox Sports that will see almost every game broadcast live on cable and Hyundai, Telstra and Coke are on board as sponsors. Then there is the A-League ad campaign, on its way to TV and cinema screens to target the 16-24 age group.

However, with the A-League curtain-raiser just 18 days away, Lowy acknowledged the hiccups that have cast some doubt on the potential success of the multi-million-dollar rebirth of soccer as "football".

Two of the eight clubs, Melbourne Victory and Central Coast Mariners, have already been forced to approach FFA with cap in hand as they struggle to shore up backers.

Questions have also risen over the FFA's aggressive grab at the youth market at the expense of the older, diehard purists, while others ponder Australia's ability to support a fourth pro-football code.

The National Rugby League, for instance, which dominates the Sydney market, is on track for record-breaking crowds in 2005. With 15 teams covering three Australian states and one territory plus New Zealand, the NRL’s average crowd for the season so far is 16,186 compared with the record of 14,671 set last year.

The Australian Football League’s 2005 results are even more challenging. Attendances for its 16 clubs playing in all seven Australian states and territories are expected to top over 6.1 million for the season with crowds in some rounds averaging more than 41,000 per game.