An ACL win could be a big loss for the Reds
An Adelaide win in the ACL could be a big financial loss (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)
When Adelaide United meets Nagoya Grampus in the Round of 16 knockout final of the Asian Champions League tonight, fans will be hoping that the club can continue on the path to another crack at being crowned continental champions.
But success at home on Tuesday night comes at a cost that calls into question what’s really the best result for an A-League club that has been tightening its purse strings for a while now.
Asian Champions League progression brings with it recognition for the club and the wider Australian football community.
However, unless it leads to a guaranteed competition win with its $4 million-plus prize-money and a ticket to the FIFA World Club Cup alongside the best of Europe, South America and co, a noble exit in the Round of 16, quarter or semi-final stage would leave Adelaide United with a costly hole in its pocket.
The ACL, in contrast to its European counterpart, the UEFA Champions League, doesn’t deliver great financial rewards for clubs. In fact, in many cases, particularly for A-League clubs struggling to make money out of their domestic scene, it’s an added financial burden that barely justifies itself.
With figures such as a potential $250,000 loss for an ACL campaign, as a result of tight Asian Football Confederation regulations limiting sponsorship opportunities, insufficient travel allowances, meager win bonuses and poor crowds for home games in Australia, Asia is hardly fertile ground for A-League clubs.
While Adelaide United assistant coach Luciano Trani spoke of the “huge benefit to the club” and the branding of Adelaide United growing in Asia, which “we hold so much for years to come” upon reaching the knockout stage, it remains to be seen if the club can monetise that growth or make a dent in a market infatuated by English and European football and has its own domestic leagues and teams to support.
Despite having the freedom of selling sponsorships on the front of their shirts for their ACL tilts, A-League clubs involved in the current campaign have failed to do so.
So desperate was Adelaide United for sponsorship earlier in the ACL season, it was on the brink of getting into bed with football outcast Clive Palmer and his rebel Football Australia body to help bankroll its Asian campaign. Such an act considering the political climate between Palmer and Football Federation Australia threatened to isolate Adelaide United, yet highlighted how frenzied the club was for financial assistance.
Despite a stable ownership structure of a club that dates back to the last days of the National Soccer League and has enjoyed a healthy market share in its hometown, Adelaide United remains restricted by the financial limitations of other A-League clubs.
Remember, too, former head coach Rini Coolen is dragging the club into the courts over his dismissal with debate raging over whether the club should leave its spiritual home at Hindmarsh Stadium over a $25,000 match fee.
Losing tonight provides the club with the chance to focus solely on rebuilding after such a disappointing A-League season, without the added burden of the ACL campaign and the associated financial strain.
Winning, in contrast, takes the club one step closer to the jackpot prize. But like a contestant on Deal or No Deal, it could be another costly step to being left with nothing by going with one suitcase too many.
Unless the jackpot is guaranteed, the thrill of another run through the knockout phase and excitement it will generate for the club will be tempered by the financial burden. And even the excitement it generates is questionable given the competition’s lack of traction in Australia.
This isn’t to say that that Adelaide United should tank out of the Asian Champions League, nor that the competition doesn’t have an important place within Asian football and for the Australian game. It has enormous scope to grow and provide the financial reward to truly entice clubs.
Instead, it’s a realisation that the ACL isn’t the golden ticket many people think it is by wrongly comparing it to the UEFA Champions League.
Nevertheless, let’s hope for an Adelaide United win tonight. But, sadly, losing isn’t such a disastrous outcome.
Adrian Musolino is editor of V8X Magazine, and has written as an expert on The Roar since 2008, cementing himself as a key writer who can see the big picture in sport. He freelances on other forms of motorsport, football, cycling and more.