Written by Annika Dean
As I sit here watching the Adelaide Crows’ final game for 2011 I find myself reflecting on a season that could have gone a lot better. It’s a very clichéd sentiment but unfortunately it’s true. It’s probably true for the other nine teams that haven’t made the finals of this year’s AFL season including South Australia’s other team, Port Adelaide.
My biggest gripe of the season however has not been with the performance of the Crows; it has been with South Australian football fans and their notion of loyalty. I don’t claim to be the biggest Crows fan out there but do claim to remain loyal and interested regardless of how my team is performing each and every week. But it seems there are others out there who simply support our South Australian teams when they are winning and stop watching or caring when they are losing.
Here are some figures to support my theory. In 1991 when the Crows started, the average attendance was roughly 30,000. This number peaked at 38, 642 in guess which year? Yep, 1998, the season that saw the Crows win their second premiership back-to-back. More recently the highest figure was 38,000 in 2005 when the Crows finished top of the table. On the back of this season’s performance the attendance number now sits at just 30,000.
Port hasn’t performed much better. Their attendance numbers peaked at 31,700 in 2004, the year of their first premiership. The attendance figure in 2011 is now 22,700 – their worst average ever.
It seems South Australia needs to take a lesson in loyalty and I could think of no better place to learn from than Canada. Their sport of choice is of course ice hockey, a game and culture I got to experience while living in Canada last year. The game itself is amazing, but that’s another story. The story here is how loyal their fans are regardless of performance. Case in point: the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Here are some more figures for you. In 2010 Forbes Magazine listed the Maple Leafs as the most valuable hockey team in both Canada and the US at $US505 million. Their income was double that of the next most valuable team the New York Rangers. They’re listed in 6th place or higher (out of 30 teams) for average game attendance in the past ten years and a non-sold out home game is about as rare as Eddie Maguire saying something nice about South Australian football. And on the matter of home games, tickets sell for about $100 to upwards of $500, so loyalty is costly.
The irony of it all however is that, to put it simply – they suck. They have the League’s longest Stanley Cup drought having not won it since 1967 and in more recent years have not made the playoffs (hockey’s version of finals) since the NHL Lockout of 2004.
But despite all this the fans keep on coming and don’t seem in any hurry to jump ship. I could look into the other underperforming clubs of the National Hockey League and I would probably find the same thing. When I asked a Canadian friend of mine, who is a long term Leafs fan, about why the fans keep coming despite their performance, she said I had asked the “Holy Grail of questions”. She proposed that the fans simply kept going out of loyalty and that despite the ridiculousness of it all it was something she gladly participated in.
That right there should be the spirit of South Australia. We should get behind our AFL teams each and every week, in the good times and the bad. Have those who turned their back on either the Crows or Port considered that now is the time they need their fans most? Yes it’s disheartening to go and watch a losing match but consider playing a losing match and realising no one cares, that is even more disheartening.
So in 2012 when a new chapter opens for both the South Aussie teams, get with them and stay with them regardless of the win/loss ratio. If the Crows end up with a drought as long as the Toronto Maple Leafs it will be 2042 before they win another premiership. I will be 54 by then, but when they do win I can proudly say that I never gave up – could you say the same?