Where are the crowds?
A-LEAGUE clubs and officials are keeping positive despite a series of disappointing attendances for the opening round of the newly-expanded competition.
Despite being the most anticipated season yet with the inclusion of new teams Gold Coast and North Queensland, crowd numbers were far from spectacular in the opening games of the season.
In fact, the average crowd for the weekend's matches was lower than in any other opening round in the league's five-year history.
Most disappointing were crowds of 8897 in Townsville to see Liverpool legend Robbie Fowler's debut with North Queensland Fury, and 6655 in Newcastle for the Jets' win over Wellington.
Reigning premiers Melbourne would have also liked more than 18,885 fans for the first game of its title defence at Etihad Stadium, while a crowd of 19,902 was below expectations for the Brisbane v Gold Coast match at Suncorp Stadium, which had been moved to the venue in hope of boosting the attendance.
Only Adelaide United could boast a crowd that wasn't considered below par, with 13,847 turning up to watch its 1-0 win over Perth Glory at Hindmarsh Stadium.
The league experienced a dip in crowds last year - possibly a side effect of the global financial crisis - and faces another challenge this season with an earlier start meaning it overlaps longer with rival codes including AFL and NRL.
In the competition's history, crowds have typically grown after those codes finish and the competition progresses, and Football Federation Australia said it wasn't too concerned with the opening-round figures.
“The crowds were in line with expectations for the opening round,” an FFA spokeswoman said, despite the fact far bigger crowds had been predicted prior to the games.
“It was a very encouraging start to the season.
“It's fantastic that we have two new teams in the competition who performed so well in the opening round.
“We are really delighted that we now have vibrant professional football clubs in 10 of Australia's major regions.”
Fury chairman Don Matheson admitted the Fury's attendance for its entertaining 3-2 loss to Sydney FC at Dairy Farmers Stadium was disappointing but was confident it would grow throughout the season.
“We would have hoped probably more for 10 to 12 thousand but the great thing was the nine that were there were super-vocal, the atmosphere was brilliant and they all left over the moon,” Matheson said.
“There was certainly a 'wait and see' approach to see if this side was going to be competitive.
“We're coming up with some strategies now to market the game a little bit stronger to the regional people, but we feel comfortable we'll get to 10-11 in the next game and we'll build from there.
“We're certainly not panicking ... the fact is we're only a city of 180,000 directly around us.
“But we're not complacent and sitting back saying that's good enough, we know that we want to build the crowds closer to 15,000 this year.“
Jets chief executive John Tsatsimas said the crowd at EnergyAustralia Stadium was affected by a clash with the local and state league competitions in the area and also insisted crowds would rise.
“You always start slow, but they'll come back and we'll be fine,” Tsatsimas said.
The fans that did attend the matches were not left short on entertainment.
There were 17 goals and no draws in the five matches of the weekend, with high profile stars Jason Culina, Robbie Fowler and John Aloisi among the goal scorers.