As Perth Glory prepares to become the 7th A-League Club to compete in the competition’s 7th Grand Final at Brisbane Roar’s Suncorp Stadium on Sunday, the A-League is quickly becoming arguably the most competitively balanced professional league in Australian professional team sports and world football.

This is the view of leading Australian sports academic Braham Dabscheck, who has been researching competitive balance in professional team sports for around 40 years.

According to Dabscheck, if the A-League had achieved perfect competitive balance, all A-League teams will have finished the regular season with an average table position of slightly less than 5. As Dabscheck’s table below shows, 6 A-League clubs have an average table position within 1 point of this mark.

And 2 of the teams that sit outside this range have their own interesting stories that enhance the A-League’s competitiveness.

Central Coast Mariners, the A-League’s most successful team by some margin (average position 3.71) hails from the league’s smallest market in Gosford. The Mariners won the 2011/12 Premier’s Plate for the second time, and have played in 3 of the competition’s 7 Grand Finals.

Former National Soccer League power Perth Glory – now in its 15th year – has found the going much harder within the A-League’s tighter regulations (average position 6.29). Despite running one of the A-League’s bigger payrolls under owner Tony Sage, its appearance on Sunday after finishing third is not only its first A-League Grand Final appearance, but its first since the final NSL season of 2003/2004.

Glory’s appearance means that all founding A-League clubs have qualified for the game’s biggest occasion, with the exception of New Zealand Knights which disbanded after 2006/07.

Braham Dabscheck:Average Position of Clubs in A-League: 2005/06 to 2011/12
Club Years in League Average Position
Central Coast Mariners

Melbourne Victory

Sydney FC

Brisbane Roar

Adelaide United

Newcastle Jets

Wellington Phoenix

Perth Glory

Gold Coast United*

New Zealand Knights*

Melbourne Heart

North Queensland Fury*

























* No Longer In The League. Source: A-League Records.

“The tightness of the A-League continues to strongly suggest that the equalisation policies in the A-League Collective Bargaining Agreement are working,” Professional Footballers Australia (PFA) Chief Executive Brendan Schwab said today.

“Those policies – featuring a salary cap, restricted player rosters and the absence of a transfer system –are helping to ensure that the fans of all A-League clubs can begin each season with the genuine hope that their team will field a competitive team that can challenge for honours.

“In PFA meetings with all players at the start of the season, it was clear that all felt they were a part of a highly competitive squad. Whilst the season did not go to plan for all, there can be no doubting that all teams showed they could beat any other during the course of the season,” Schwab added.

The PFA believes that the quality of coaching, injury prevention practices and list management will become increasingly significant factors for on-field success under the current equalisation policies.

“Payroll will not be decisive,” Schwab said. “All clubs must spend between 85% and 100% of their cap, and all have the same opportunities regarding payments outside of the cap.

“Whilst there have been moves to abandon the obligation that all clubs spend 85% of their cap, this is something that is fundamental to the CBA and the players’ voluntary agreement to have their earnings capped.

“If a club is to be the beneficiary of regulations that restrain the payrolls of other clubs and player earnings, it is simply essential it must invest a minimum spend to field a competitive team in the best interests of the competition, the other clubs and the players,” Schwab said.

According to Dabscheck, it is reasonable to conclude that the A-League is now one of the most competitive leagues in Australian professional team sports and in world football.

“Maybe, a fuss could be made of this,” he suggested.

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For a link to Braham Dabscheck’s report into competitive balance in the A-League in comparison with the Australian Football League, National Rugby League and European football (November 2010): Click here.