‘Terrible decision’: A-Leagues’ move to sell off grand final rights to Sydney sparks fan anger | Australia sport
The A-Leagues have sparked anger among fans after selling off the rights to host its grand finals to the New South Wales government, with Sydney to host the men’s and women’s showpiece events for the next three years in a reported eight-figure deal.
In a departure from tradition for Australian football, the title deciders could potentially be played away from the highest-placed team’s home ground.
The NSW government said the move aimed to leverage recent interest in football off the back of the Socceroos’ successful World Cup campaign and with the Women’s World Cup to be played on home soil in 2023. But the announcement on Monday was not universally well received.
Many fans voiced their displeasure on social media – “absolutely disgraceful call”, “a terrible, terrible decision”, “short-sighted” were some of the immediate reactions – after the move raised the prospect of potentially having two teams from outside Sydney contesting the grand final at a Sydney stadium. Melbourne City’s men’s and women’s teams currently top the A-Leagues ladders.
Travelling supporters would have to stump up the associated costs of accommodation and travel to Sydney – at a time when Australians are facing record high air fares – but the the Australian Professional Leagues (APL), the body that runs the A-Leagues, said it was working with transport and accommodation providers to develop special packages for fans. The leagues’ official hotel partner IHG has committed to offer discounted rates for out-of-town supporters.
The APL chief executive, Danny Townsend, said the move was “a unique opportunity” to build a new tradition for football fans in the style of many other football countries around the world, with a week-long “festival of football” planned in the buildup to the game.
“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,” Townsend said.
“Because we have certainty about which city will be hosting the final from a long way out, we are able to build a ‘festival of football’ around these major events.”
The A-League Women grand final will be played on 30 April, with the men’s decider on 3 June. Sydney boasts three premier football stadiums in line for hosting duties – the new $828m Allianz Stadium at Moore Park, CommBank Stadium in Parramatta and Accor Stadium at Olympic Park.
The APL said it expected tens of thousands of fans to descend on Sydney for the finals, with Destination NSW claiming the deal could inject $26m into the state’s economy.
The NSW sport minister, Alister Henskens, claimed the state has the greatest supporter base and the most passionate fans in the country, along with the highest level of football participation and the best venues.
“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,” Henskens said.
One of the most memorable men’s grand finals was played at Adelaide Oval in 2016, when 50,119 fans watched Adelaide United beat Western Sydney Wanderers.
No ALW grand final has ever been moved outside the home city of the team that won hosting rights but since the inaugural ALM grand final, the decider has been held away from the host team’s regular home stadium on three occasions.
In the first of those instances, Central Coast and Newcastle played before the lowest grand final crowd of the competition’s first nine seasons at the old Sydney Football Stadium. The Mariners and Western Sydney drew a respectable crowd of 42,102 to the same ground when they faced off in 2013.
On the most recent occasion, Sydney FC only attracted 7,051 fans to CommBank Stadium after a Covid-ravaged 2020 season.