A-League to trial flares and fan-zones in bid to halt declining attendances
A-League chiefs will trial a suite of new entertainment across the first month of the season to win fans back to the competition.
Safe smoke from flares in the stands, fan-zones modelled on the World Cup and lights and music during play are all on the agenda in an attempt to lure young families to the football after a year of declining crowds and television audiences.
A-League head Greg O'Rourke spent the off-season working with clubs and stadia to develop the plan to cash in on spiking interest from Russia 2018.
"We're fully aware of what the Big Bash entertainment product is and how it attracts young families. We need to make sure we're not closed off to that," he told AAP. "But equally we need to make sure the things in our game that we hold unique will be maintained. We'll be treading carefully towards this to get the best of both worlds."
O'Rourke is adamant the new bells and whistles will be no substitute for what the sport does best: singing and supporting from the stands.
"We want to see the return and growth of active fans that have a large boisterous entertaining, standing, singing, chanting culture," he said. "We've been doing a significant amount of work with the clubs, the police and also the active fan representatives about what would be important to them to attract them back and to allow them to grow."
It's reported that authorities and officials on both sides are keen to lift some of the more draconian security measures to make active support appealing again.
A new Melbourne Victory active group to replace the disbanded North Terrace would be a huge boost.
For those less rusted on fans, O'Rourke wants to make matches more entertaining. Central Coast and Wellington matches will feature safe smoke after their stadiums agreed to trial controlled flare releases from the stands. Other stadiums will follow suit should those trials work.
Most controversially, there will be music played with accompanying video during goal kicks, corners and substitutions.
"The plan is based on what fans felt were missing out of an end of season review," O'Rourke said. "Fans wanted more pre-game entertainment, more in-game entertainment and more at half time.
"Football globally has about 30 minutes when the ball is stopped or out of play. Some of those gaps can be filled but not in the big derbies when you've got big active fans because the natural rhythm of the supporters is the strength of the game.
"When we're at smaller stadiums or bigger stadiums with smaller crowds, we'll use them."