NEWCASTLE Jets chief executive Lawrie McKinna has welcomed the A-League's switch to winter next season and believes it could be an opportunity to work alongside rather than against the Knights.
After a three-month shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the current campaign resumes on July 16 and culminates in the grand final on August 23.
The Jets have four games in the regular season to play.
The enforced hold-up was the catalyst for Football Federation Australia to negotiate a revised one-year broadcast deal with pay-TV operator Foxtel, which had threatened to walk away from the game.
Under the terms of the $32 million contract, the next A-League season will begin in December and finish in July 2021 - the first step in an anticipated shift towards a full alignment with the local football calendar and other winter codes.
"It's definitely a positive," McKinna said. "In the last couple of years, the popularity of the A-League has been down a little. This shows we are willing to try something different. It is up to the clubs to put on a good show. It is a good time to test it."
Domestic football in Australia has been played across the summer since 1989, a decision made in part to provide free air, away from the AFL and NRL.
The move to the warmer months hasn't produced the revenue streams hoped. The Jets will lose about $2 million this campaign, despite having just over 10,000 members.
The season will now overlap five months with the Knights, who boast 18,959 members, have a far bigger commercial footprint and posted a profit of about $800,000 in 2019.
"We have many members who are also members with the Knights," McKinna said. "If you are a member, you can go to both games anyway. You have already paid your money. I don't think we would be competing for that dollar. We would certainly be open to working with the Knights on promotions."
As well as potential members, the Jets and Knights would be competing for media exposure and sponsors.
The Jets have not had a permanent front-of-home-shirt sponsor in four years. Inspirations Paint has featured on the away strip for the past five seasons.
McKinna, while agreeing there "could be an impact" on the game's exposure nationally, believed it was outweighed by a greater opportunity to connect the professional game with grassroots.
"You are actually communicating with the players, who are playing at the same time," McKinna said. "You can communicate through their clubs and associations rather than communicating in October, November and December when nobody is playing.
"You would want to avoid scheduling A-League games in the traditional 3pm Sunday football time slot. We will see how things go. FFA and the clubs will monitor the connection and see if it transforms into people coming to games."
McKinna said the other major benefit was the cooler conditions in autumn and winter.
"Watch an A-League game on a Friday night with an 8pm kick-off compared to games at 5pm in summer," McKinna said. "The games are different because of the heat. The quality of football gets better in March, April, May and June when you are playing in 20-degree temperatures. You will will see a higher tempo game. Sure, there might be the odd cold night. That is what a jacket is for."
A move would also bring the A-League into line with Asia.
The pending change has divided opinion within football circles, with many worried the A-League would be drowned out by rival codes and that pitch quality could suffer at venues shared by multiple sports.
"I don't think the surface will be an issue," McKinna said. "They played played a Super Rugby game at McDonald Jones Stadium [in February] on a Saturday night and the rain was torrential. We played the Mariners the next day. Everybody thought the game would be off and the pitch destroyed but you wouldn't have known they had played a game there. The stadium do a fantastic job turning it around."
While in favour of the shift, McKinna believes it should be gradual.
"Next season finishes in July and if they went to straight to a full winter season starting the following March there is too long a lay-off. You want that connection by keeping playing.
"We will see how the crowds and everything goes. Then they can make the decision whether to move the league back another month the year after and slowly transition it to a full winter season."
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