After a year of silent arenas and uncertainty in 2020, Adelaide United set a new bar for regular season crowds when 5159 fans descended onto Coopers Stadium in the final round of this season, to cheer on their side at the states premier football venue.
While numerous methods have been tested to grow crowds for the league, they have all had limited success. Double-headers with men's games are not always suitable for families and home games at varied venues may expose the teams to new fans, however they can frustrate others.
Adelaide United took a new approach with club sponsor My Money House, buying all the seats in the stadium and the club encouraging fans to register for tickets. The Adelaide United's C.E.O Nathan Kosmina was obviously pleased with the results. "it was a model we developed internally to build commercial value for the W-League team about 18 months ago, My Money House jumped at the opportunity". Previously Adelaide had tried giving out free tickets, with limited interest. However the 21st March match marked the first time anybody had attempted to buy out the stadium for the fans.
The core of the team is made up of South Australians, and that is no accident, with Kosmina pointing out that it is part of the identity of the club "Our focus on the W-League team is to create a pathway for local players." Although there have been some big name and international recruits to the side these additions have been recruited on a basis of leadership to help develop the youngsters as well as pure talent. "That's what bringing somebody like Michelle Heyman does for the players to look, learn and understand what it takes."
They had the players, the stadium, the sponsorship and a loyal fan base, but to break the record they had to reach new people. "We have dedicated ourselves to mirroring the marketing of the men's and women's team" says Kosmina. Followers of the clubs social media will have noticed this as kit launches, fixture announcements and fan engagement always included the A-League and W-League sides in equal measure. The equal effort put into the W-League side paid off with the event gaining wide media attention around South Australia.
The club were optimistic early of a big crowd and knew that setting a new attendance record was a possibility even with the AFLW scheduled to play on the same day, "conservatively, 3000 (people) we thought, great, but it became evident that we were going to get more...Adelaide as a city are behind womens sport, we were confident that there was a big enough audience."
The club's hard work paid off with record crowds attending the match and the game itself lived up to the occasion, with Adelaide running out 3-1 winners and putting on a display of entertaining, attacking football. Given the event was designed to give the players a stage it could not have gone better. "The ultimate priority was to get exposure for a really good team and program" says Kosmina, " the players were really excited about it, it's not that often that they've had the opportunity to play in what is the spiritual home of Adelaide football."
"The concept was really well received by the general public" says Kosmina, and as the core of the team is made up of local players it generated a buzz around the community. "The second factor," he notes "was the performance of the team and the game itself, this game was effectively a grand final." He said, referring to the circumstances of the match, Adelaide had to win to stay in finals contention.
The club are eager to produce a similar crowd next year and are confident of breaking their own record, when asked if a similar concept would be rolled out next season Kosmina was bullish, "we would definitely like to do it again, bring everybody back, the schools, the local clubs, next time its about how you do it bigger."
With the historic crowd, the season on the line and an emphatic result, it was by every measure, the biggest game of the season so far and one that other W-League clubs should be looking to replicate. While free admission is not sustainable every week, as a means of promoting the club and the sport it was a brilliant initiative that will hopefully generate some new fans. "If we can get people down, they will enjoy it" says Kosmina and with such an entertaining display and carnival atmosphere, who wouldn't have?