Foreign sports have certainly made their mark in Melbourne since the influx of immigrants in the 1940’s. Such has been the growth of sports like Basketball and Soccer that they are now the among the highest participation sports in the country.
Soccer, Association Football or just Football (whatever you want to call it) has been dubbed as ‘the world game’ because it has the most fans worldwide at 3.5 billion. The sport is played in more than 200 countries across the planet and over 265 million people play the outdoor version of the sport.
As a professional sport in Australia, it has had to compete against the more known local football codes in Australian Rules and Rugby League and while it took until 2000 for the sport to be marketed towards white Australians, the sport was very popular among the Italians, Greeks, Croatians and Serbians.
Melbourne has two teams in the Heart and the Victory, who are the most popular and successful club in the A-League. The popularity of the Victory inflates the Melbourne average attendance of an A-League game to 15,804 which puts Soccer on par with the average attendances with its major TV competitor, the Big Bash League.
Instead of competing against the other native football codes, Football Australia decided to change the season from winter to summer to monopolize the market and while the ratings have been steadily growing to 82,886 per game, Soccer still rates behind the BBL for average crowd attendance and average TV ratings.
Professional Basketball in Australia runs a very similar path to that of Soccer in that the national league has been moved from the winter to summer seasons to combat the stranglehold of the local football codes. Both leagues underwent a restructure after financial problems and poor management and both sports began professionally in the 1970’s. Both have had the same problems in breaking into the Australian market and will continue to face the same problems as they try to create a market for their product.
Basketball as a sport is a very entertaining game played out over 3 hours, however, the Australian version of the game doesn’t offer the same level of skill and entertainment as the American or European versions of the game. The Melbourne Tigers and the now defunct South Dragons were both successful, competitive franchises but like the A-League, the NBL is not one of the premier leagues in the world and finding major draw-cards remains a task.
Both sports show that despite the success of the local teams and the participation rates at a grassroots level, that neither sport will ever achieve the same level of success in the local market as the native sporting codes. However, both professional leagues are in the introduction phase of their life cycle and in time, both sports may become successful leagues in their own right
Ben Sathananthan is a second year Sports Journalism student at Latrobe University. You can follow him on Twitter at @bensathsports