Where in the world are the A-League crowds?

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Football Federation Australia has claimed there’s “no cause for panic.”

The keyboard warrior brigade are calling for calm. Meanwhile, the naysayers are labelling it proof that the A-League is doomed.

But when a grand total of 31,532 fans pile through the gates for a complete round of fixtures, the question must surely be asked: where in the world are the A-League crowds?

That’s a total of 31,532 fans spread across five different Round 8 fixtures!

For the sake of comparison, Melbourne Victory’s 1-0 defeat at the hands of Adelaide United in Round 8 of the 2006/07 season drew a crowd of 32,368 on its own.

In a season in which expansion clubs Gold Coast United and North Queensland Fury were expected to raise crowd figures – albeit marginally – a litany of excuses have been trotted out for the drop in attendances.

From an overlap with the popular Australian Rules and Rugby League seasons to poor weather, the global financial crisis and haphazard scheduling, every excuse under the sun has been proffered for why A-League fans are staying away in droves.

The most commonly cited complaint is high ticket prices, and the award for the most optimistic ticketing campaign since Luton Town were a force must surely go to Brisbane Roar.

This season, fans in Brisbane were treated to a new name for the club formerly known as Queensland Roar.

If the subsequent hike in ticket prices is anything to go by, it must have been an expensive transition to make.

Despite the club failing to sign any players of note – unless you count Scottish hard man Bob Malcolm – the Roar raised tickets prices to the sort of excess that would make even Sir Richard Branson blush.

The club’s financially crippling tenancy at the Queensland Government-owned Suncorp Stadium may have pushed them to the brink of insolvency, but forcing fans to dig deep into their pockets to cover the debts was perhaps not the most prudent of decisions.

Rather than turning out en masse to support the cash-strapped outfit, fans have instead simply stopped going.

Where once a crowd in excess of 20,000 might have been expected for Brisbane’s most recent clash with Sydney FC, this time around just 7,677 fans bothered to turn out.

So numerous are complaints over price rises that Brisbane have been forced to introduce a new six-game ticket package, in a last-ditch attempt to placate angry supporters.

That’s to say nothing of the dischord between A-League fans and security forces, with Suncorp Stadium staff notorious for their heavy-handed tactics, while Melbourne Victory fans recently complained of being spied on by private security firm Hatamoto.

It’s a shame that dwindling crowd sizes are beginning to dominate the headlines, because on the pitch the standard of football is the best it’s ever been.

Gold Coast United and North Queensland Fury have both added value with some attractive, attacking football – although the two Queensland sides both lost last weekend.

Gold Coast went down 3-2 at home in a controversial defeat to Melbourne Victory, which saw Victory talisman Kevin Muscat convert a late penalty at the second attempt after referee Peter Green ordered a retake for encroachment when Muscat fired his first effort high over the crossbar.

Meanwhile, North Queensland bossed the first hour of their clash with Adelaide United, only to go down 2-0 in front of their home fans – who were no doubt just as concerned with reports that the embattled Townsville-based club are reputedly losing some £30,000 per week.

Perth Glory beat Newcastle Jets 1-0 on the road and Brisbane beat Sydney at home by the same scoreline, while draw specialists Wellington Phoenix were held to a scoreless stalemate by the Central Coast Mariners.

But all the talk from another entertaining round of matches was about crowd sizes.

While playing “spot the fan” is becoming an increasingly common practice at A-League games, it’s not a good look for a competition struggling desperately to find its place in the crowded Australian sports market.

At least one group isn’t complaining, though.

With more and more fans staying at home, TV ratings for host broadcaster Fox Sports are not surprisingly on the rise.

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