By Michael Turner

Peak A-League. How many times have you seen that commented and tweeted in the past few days?  Finally, the world football’s longest off-season is over, and the league we know and love is back. Hasn’t it just served up a fantastic entrée in the first two matchdays?

Every off-season, social media is still abuzz with the same comments and rhetoric. Where is the marketing? Why aren’t we getting the word out there? Why are we getting old players, where are the stars, why aren’t we catering to the football public?

Professional football in Australia is a bit of a niche community. I’m aware that the evidence appears to point to the contrary. We get caught up quite often in the idea that the sport’s participation rates are extremely high, and that there is an enormous following of major professional clubs in Europe, but as we all know these numbers don’t translate to viewership of our domestic competitions.

We are an extremely passionate bunch, and I include of course the supporters of the second-tier semi-professional National Premier Leagues and collective fanbases. The collective #SokkahTwitter community is just a prime example of this.

Every day our timelines are filled with a huge level of engagement with our various team’s posts. Discourse, both constructive and otherwise is rampant, and if you are anything like me, you probably get sucked into the debate at least a few times a week.

It’s a credit to the collective community that we feel so invested in the health of our sport and our competitions. Enough to engage in the emotionally-fuelled arguments and debate on a regular basis.

Sometimes overlooked, this is something that defines football and gives it a true identity that is often lost in the Australian sporting landscape. The tribalism, something that exists around the entire world in sport, doesn’t exist as heavily in the other sporting codes.

Look at the AFL. If you believe some reports, there are over a million supporters of Richmond Football Club, yet the suburb of Richmond boasts around 27,000 residents. The support base is less about the representation of the region they are named after, but more for the team and their successes.

In the NRL, around Sydney you will find a plethora of Rugby League fans spread far and wide supporting a selection of teams. Roosters fans in Penrith, Manly fans in the North-West, Rabbitohs fans in the South-West. The geographical boundaries aren’t so significant. I concede of course, in both examples there are some exceptions, such as Cronulla and Geelong.

In the World Game, our teams define often our identity. Western Sydney Wanderers have built a stronghold supporter base in the Western Suburbs of Sydney. Central Coast and Newcastle are representative of their regions. South Melbourne, Sydney United and Marconi boast strong (relative to their respective leagues) supporter bases with a tribalistic passion for their clubs and the cultural and regional identity they were built upon.

For me, this is ‘Peak A-League’, or ‘Peak Australian Football’ more broadly. We follow our teams because they truly represent who we are. On and off the field. In the community and in the way they conduct themselves. These clubs are not merely organisations whose business is to win sporting games. These clubs are beacons of identity in the communities they reside.

Back to social media, this fuels the rampant debate and discourse we know and love. Football may never be the biggest professional game in this country, but it will always be the most passionate. This is why the calls for mass television campaigns always confuse me. It’s rarely the highlights reel that wins people over, it’s the matchday atmosphere. The passion and love for a club and what they do. It’s the zany and wacky social media videos that fill our social media feeds and the ‘memes’.

The account ‘A-League Memes’ could very well stake a claim to being one of the most effective marketing tools the top professional tier boasts. Two core examples emerged this week. The account posted the ‘metrics’ of two posts. One of the Vedran Janjetovic goalkeeping blunder against the Brisbane Roar, and the Riley McGree scorpion kick goal.

Both wacky events, with 2 million and 1.7 million views respectively. These are huge numbers. TV media would be lucky to get such a strong active engagement and the ‘A-League Memes’ example is free.

It’s both our ability to take ourselves too seriously and our ability to take the absolute mickey out of ourselves that are the biggest two marketing tools we have.

The best advertisement of our game is that passion. The love, the tribalism and identity. The insane goal scored in NPL2 with 15 passionate active supporters jumping down rows of seats to celebrate with their local legend. The collective jeers of a goalkeeping error shared to millions through a meme page. The passionate tear-jerking passing move from three home-grown juniors leading to a stunning goal away from home.

These are the moments that will drive people to visit our stadiums, hear the crowds, the passion. Join the debate and become lifelong followers. It’s not a multi-million dollar advertising agency doing the work, it’s your twitter feed, your passion, and ‘A-League Memes’.

Michael Turner is a co-host of Around The Bloc – the supporters podcast of the Western Sydney Wanderers. Catch ATB every Wednesday from 5pm AEDT on FNR, or subscribe on your favourite podcast app. 

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