Regular season winner not necessarily champion

00:09, May 07 2014
Besart Berisha
KISS GOOD LUCK: Brisbane Roar's Besart Berisha in training ahead of the A-League final.

The A-League football competition hosts its ninth grand final on Sunday when the top-seeded Brisbane Roar face the league runners-up Western Sydney Wanderers.

The league's two top teams facing off in a final seems a fair outcome given they played a 27-round, six-month league to determine those rankings.

Despite it delivering a fair outcome so far, is a six-team playoff series really a fair way to decide a winner in a 10-team competition? Especially in a sport like football, in which an inferior teams can upset superior ones more easily than in sports like rugby or Aussie rules.

How often does the best team win the A-League grand final? And how does that win ratio compare to other Australasian professional sports competitions?

It turns out the A-League playoff system has delivered a fair outcome (ie the best team in the wins the grand final) 50 per cent of the time, in its - admittedly short -  eight-year existence.

On the other four occasions the runner-up has taken out the title, while the league winners have failed to make the grand final on two occasions.


By comparison in the NRL* the league-winning team or minor premiers have gone on to win the grand final 68 times in 107 seasons - or 63.5 per cent of the time, in the AFL** it's 64 times out of 117 seasons or 54.7 per cent of the time, while Super Rugby has produced a league-winning grand final winner 11 times in 18 seasons or 61.1 per cent of the time.

So a league-winning team in the major Australasian sports leagues goes on to win the grand final between 50 and 65 per cent of the time.

Of course given the nature of modern professional sport the A-League had more factors to consider than simply finding the best team in the league.

A finals series adds intrigue at the end of a season, which draws media and fan attention to the game while a grand final provides a dramatic climax to the season.

In the highly competitive market of professional sports in Australia the A-League obviously felt they had to mimic the NRL and AFL's system of a league season followed by a knockout playoff series.

No doubt they are a commercial success. More playoff games, with more at stake means more money earned for the governing body, the clubs, the sponsors and the all-important broadcasters.

But when the best team from a six-month league season fails to win the league 50 per cent of the time is it time to change the format in favour of league-winning teams?

Is this a fair return for a team that comes out on top after a gruelling season of games?

Should these leagues do more to favour league-winning teams in the playoffs? Or do away with playoffs altogether? Share your views in comments below.

* NRL refers to the competition in all its different guises - NSWRL, ARL, Super League

** Prior to 1990 the AFL was called the VFL