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FFA considers split-season A-League

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Mexico, Uruguay, Colombia, Costa Rica and Paraguay swear by it, Chile and Ecuador have come back to it and Japan’s mighty J-League is the latest convert – but could the split-season model ever work in the A-League?

In a bid to become a more enticing television product, and to resolve the question of “meaningless” games in the A-League, that’s the question being considered by Football Federation Australia.

It couldn’t happen this season, or probably even the year after, but with the FFA seeking to create a point of difference ahead of the next round of television rights negotiations, nothing is off-limits in the years thereafter.

Every scenario is being put on the table at Whitlam Square and perhaps the most interesting option being canvassed is the split-season idea, known as “Apertura” and “Clausura” [Spanish for “opening” and “closing”] championships.

But perhaps most strikingly for Australia, the dual-league structure has just been introduced into two new markets: Japan adopted it this year and it has also been embraced by the US’s second-tier North American Soccer League.

In particular, Australian officials will be watching closely to see what happens in Japan and whether the concept is a hit with fans, broadcasters and clubs alike.

“We are constantly looking for innovations in broadcast, match-day experience and digital engagement,” an FFA spokesperson told Fairfax Media. “The Apertura/Clausura concept has some appeal, but it’s early days. We’ll examine how the J-League goes [this] year and consider if it would make sense for the A-League.”

Incidentally, the FFA hosted J-League officials at the A-League grand final last season as they looked to incorporate ideas for their own competition. The Japanese Football Association made the switch from the first-past-the-post format in a bid to encourage television ratings and maintain a more sustained public interest.

At present, there are 18 nations in Latin America who favour the split format, including some of the regions best leagues, although it was recently abandoned in Argentina. Brazil, which has struggled just to create a truly national championship for decades, still operates its state and national competitions side-by-side.

With the second stage having just begun, big clubs like Shimizu S-Pulse and Kashiwa Reysol, who struggled in the opening part of the season, suddenly have something to play for again, in addition to the fight to avoid relegation.

But in Australia, the argument is centred around reducing the number of tedious clashes, particularly in the second half of the season.

All too often, teams at the bottom end of the table seem to drop away in both performance and pulling power, creating a string of matches that often reflect poorly on the overall product, leading the FFA to consider ways to make such contests more engaging.

Naturally, the introduction of promotion and relegation to a national second division would create the kind of tension required, but the authorities have ruled out that idea for the foreseeable future.

Under the current model of the A-League, the season could be split into two campaigns, albeit of an unequal number, as there are presently 27 rounds.

Applied to the existing calender, a theoretical first season of 14 matches could take place between October 8 and January 10, while the second season, of 13 matches, may occur between January 15 and April 10, with the best teams of both seasons then facing off in the finals.

© 2015 Newcastle Herald | This article was written by Sebastian Hassett and first appeared in Newcastle Herald on June 12th 2015.

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