Australia has found the A-League, but FFA must capitalise

Tony Tannous Columnist

By Tony Tannous, Tony Tannous is a Roar Expert

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    David Gallop's legacy could rest on the value of the next football broadcast deal. AAP Image/Paul Miller

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    Amid the euphoria of what been a quite remarkable season in terms of attendance, TV viewership, awareness and fan engagement, the A-League and its administrators must continue to make sound decisions, keeping its fans at the core.

    David Gallop says the league is currently in an execution phase, and there’s no doubt the success of the arrival or Alessandro Del Piero and the Western Sydney Wanderers has given the FFA a massive leg-up on the road to sustainability.

    But it’s a road likely to be full of obstacles, and Gallop and his team must continue to watch their speed and execute well.

    The five months between May and October this year will be critical, and the FFA will do well not to get too far ahead of itself.

    12 months ago all the focus was on the issues surrounding the likes of Clive Palmer, Nathan Tinkler and quite a few more.

    Disgruntled stakeholders across club-land, struggling to see any light, were lining up to take pot shots at then-CEO Ben Buckley and his team.

    After the failed push into Queensland, the sense of distrust between head office and the game’s stakeholders could be felt across the country.

    Such was the tension after Gold Coast United were axed that Frank Lowy was moved to set up a joint A-League strategic committee (JALSC) to give club owners a greater voice and stake in the strategic direction of the game.

    It’s now history that the Wanderers were born out of the shipwreck that was Clive Palmer’s A-League toy, while the mining magnate moved on to start building a real-life Titanic.

    Neither the FFA nor Palmer will want their new toys to sink.

    Certainly, in order to capitalise on the success that has been the Wanderers’ inaugural season, the FFA will need to ensure it continues to look after the growing band of fans that have instantly identified with the club.

    It’s as engaged an audience as you will find anywhere, but it remains a young one, and the FFA should never take their engagement for granted.

    If they can learn anything from the history of their cross town rivals, Sydney FC, they should go back to the end of season one, where fans suffered due to the debt the club had racked up in the opening season, as well as the boardroom rumblings.

    Up went the ticket prices, in came a manager, in Terry Butcher, from a bygone era, and out went the bling, as well as much of the interest.

    It’s only this season, with Del Piero in town, and the Wanderers flying out west, that Sydney, the city, has rediscovered the A-League.

    But bubbling away under the surface remain a number of key issues that need to be given the appropriate due diligence ahead of next season.

    Primarily they come back to two key objectives, ensuring the sustainability of each competing club and finding the right balance on their relations with fans.

    Only yesterday there was another report from The Australian’s football scribe Ray Gatt about the Central Coast Mariners missing their fortnightly player and staff payments last week.

    Elsewhere, there remain a couple of issues between club owners and the tax office, as well as the need to find more investment at a number of clubs.

    On the fan engagement front, the FFA have come a long way since the feisty days of the fan-led forums, but there remains a level of distrust between the active support groups and the FFA’s security consultant, Hatamoto.

    The FFA has to find the right balance between giving fans enough rope to generate the wonderful active support that has turned heads and won hearts across the country, and ensuring this active support doesn’t spill over into anything sinister.

    Certainly, the experience that the league’s new head of operations, Russell Sargent, had in America with the MLS over the past decade should help on this front.

    It’s all a fine balancing act, but if the FFA had done anything right over the past 12 or so month, it has been to engage its fans and stakeholders, and, more importantly, listen.

    This is where the upcoming off-season remains crucial to the execution of its long term strategy.

    With free-to-air TV likely to expose the A-League to even more people next season, it’s important any lingering issues are confronted and addressed, and their ‘product’ showcases well.

    What the FFA can’t afford to do is turn a blind eye to any issue.

    Other codes across Australia are discovering this eventually catches up with you.

    Certainly the extra dollars from the new TV deal will help, but they must be invested wisely to ensure the game is in a position to capitalise in three or four years, at the point of the next TV deal.

    For example, on the field the FFA must continue to build upon the marquee impact of this season, constantly striving for improvement in playing and coaching standards.

    For all the outstanding success of season eight, this is a time for the FFA not to pat itself on the back, but to recognise the hard work has only just begun.

    Tony Tannous
    Tony Tannous

    Follow Tony on Twitter @TonyTannousTRBA

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    The Crowd Says (51)

    • March 19th 2013 @ 7:11am
      MV Dave said | March 19th 2013 @ 7:11am | ! Report

      Agree with all you have said here Tony…we don’t have to go back too far to see what happens when the powers that be take their eyes off the ball…so to speak. In seasons 2-3 the league was booming but some poor decisions were made eg which clubs were brought into the league and how expansion was handled. These poor decisions led to reductions in attendance and TV viewership.
      There is little doubt the quality of play on the field has increased significantly since season 1. There are. Now 2 wonderful Derbys in Melbourne and Sydenee which the fans have embraced.
      It is vital that the FFA continue to work with all its stakeholders, including most importantly the fans, to ensure the successes over the last 2 seasons aren’t wasted but rather built on. The success of WSW is testament to how the FFA have listened to fans and the game has prospered.
      The crowd issues, whilst no doubt overblown by the mainstream media, need to be monitored and any troublemakers banned from grounds. The atmosphere at Football games is unique amongst all the sports and we want this to prosper in the A League.
      Great gains in 2011-2013 but Football must be wary of recent history which shows more work to be done to keep the World Game on track in Oz…we have a real opportunity to make our game even bigger.
      As an 8 year MV member l look forward to the future of Football in Oz with greater optimism than ever before.

      • March 19th 2013 @ 8:10am
        Kasey said | March 19th 2013 @ 8:10am | ! Report

        Many things are contributing to Australians ‘finding’ the A-League…the standard has improved out of sight from the inaugural season, helped by importing some quality pros to teach the youngsters what it means to be a full time pro footballer. SBS are finally ‘on board’ and supporting the game as they always have rather than pining over the lost NSL Tjis has improved the mood of the game from grassroots and ‘old-soccer’ through to the newer fans who have sampled the local game after playing FIFA on their consoles or watching EPL highlights on tele. The true believers have developed serious ties to their teams in only 8 years (contrast with the BBL) demonstrating some of the passionate crowd scenes the world game is famous for and because this is Australia, thankfully very few of the scenes football is infamous for.

        The quality of football is light years ahead of season 1 but the refereeing is still NSL standard or worse:( Needs to be fixed ASAP if the game is to continue to improve. Damien de Bohun has already announced a couple of the 1%-ers that will be ‘fixed’for next season..extended bench of 5 – giving a greater tactical flexibility to the managers to influence the game mid stream. that extended bench will be housed on proper benches rather than the Bunnings outdoor furniture display we currently have , improving the aesthetic of game day. I expect WSW to go on to bigger and better things both on & off the field.

        • March 19th 2013 @ 10:41am
          fadida said | March 19th 2013 @ 10:41am | ! Report

          Well said Kasey

    • March 19th 2013 @ 7:13am
      Kasey said | March 19th 2013 @ 7:13am | ! Report

      I think FFA has the right man (finally) in charge. Gallop’s safety first conservative personality evident during his reign as NRL CEO should serve football well during this delicate phase. Nothing too whizz-bang, just consolidate the gains made in the last 12 months and prepare the 10 clubs for the increase in distribution from HQ when the new TV deal comes on line in a month or two. Steady as she goes for the next 3-5 years please(a continuation of the slow but steady growth would serve football well.) Nothing attracts investors & sponsors like a sure thing. Stability in the game will reap rewards.

      As for the Mariners, we all know they run close to the bone for 8 years now so the football season isn’t the football season without a “Mariners miss player payment!” ‘scoop’ from Ray ‘the muckraker’ Gatt. The game is in rude health and the Mariners will be fine.
      Nothing to see here; certainly nothing like the controversies of the past..I’m particularly thinking of Clive and his über ego ruining GCU then Tinks spitting the dummy with Buckley & his Jets etc.
      It’s a good time to be a football fan:)

      • Roar Guru

        March 19th 2013 @ 4:20pm
        Redb said | March 19th 2013 @ 4:20pm | ! Report

        Ray Gatt is a good journo who tells it how it is. You should not doubt his affections are anything but for soccer.

        • March 22nd 2013 @ 6:54am
          Kasey said | March 22nd 2013 @ 6:54am | ! Report

          I refer to Gatt as Mr Negative.

          He always takes a football story and finds a way to spin it to the “sky is falling” crowd. However given the prevalence of Chicken Little’s in the fans of the game, perhaps he just knows his audience? I am yet to read a glowingly positive article from him despite the enormous strides the game has made in the last 10 years.

    • March 19th 2013 @ 9:02am
      striker said | March 19th 2013 @ 9:02am | ! Report

      Agree with all your points Tony there is still alot of work to be done but in gallop i think he is the right man for the job, he has given us respect here in sydney with all the major networks on board, i still think crowds need to improvewith all teams bar WSW,MV,SYDNEY FC who are driving majority of the crowd improvements.

    • March 19th 2013 @ 9:09am
      c said | March 19th 2013 @ 9:09am | ! Report

      Do not ever take your eyes off the ball we are still very much in the embryonic stage

    • March 19th 2013 @ 9:43am
      Jukes said | March 19th 2013 @ 9:43am | ! Report

      It definitely feels like a break out year. Still a long way to go though. There are lots of things driving the A-league most notably has been the standard of the league. Its has definitely improved over the years and is one of the many reasons fans have been flocking to the game. The competition is very even, the games for the most part have been very enjoyable to watch. Obviously the signing of Del Piero, Ono and Heskey have been big contributors to the A-leagues success this year. Lets hope that the FFA continues to engage the clubs and especially the fans for next year. This cant stop and needs to be an ongoing process.

      Key issues that need to be addressed and this is where the FFA can seek input from the clubs and the fans and where they will get a lot of Kudos if they do get right.

      1. Standards of refereering need to improve, which they have identified. The refs do a reasonable job with the training and resources available.
      2. Transfer windows – there was some noise about this in the season. If there is an issue sit down with the clubs explain the issues or get their feedback on how this can be improved upon. If they are unhappy then let them make some positive suggestions and improvements.
      3. Fan engagement and crowd security – You have had 3-4 fan protests this year, most notably from MV, WSW and A Utd supporters. Your fans are your biggest asset, dont turn your back on them. We all want the game to get bigger and better. We know what we want from the fan experience.
      4. Let their be a review process including the guy who king hit one of our WSW supporters. They will review it, find him guilty with proper evidence. He will go through the review process, then they can evict him and then he can be someones b*tch in gaol.
      5. Defend the league at every opportunity. There are a lot of people with vested interests who want to make sure that football is not successful in this country. Whether thats a media outlet who has spent millions on securing the rights to broadcast to a newspaper who is looking to sell papers. Its not a case of me being paranoid or insecure either, this is something that has been targeted in the past. Remember the channel 7 incident when they bought the rights purely to assist the AFL. Then showed football at some ungodly hour and then not at all. I wont ever forget or forgive channel 7 for that.
      6. Engage stakeholders to help improve the game. Classic recent example is the live site not going ahead for the Sydney derby game. Surely Fox sports could see the long term benefits of growing this fixture with something like a live site. If they are worried about the commercial impact of losing subscribers or viewer numbers I dont think they should be worrying. This would have translated amazingly well on their broadcast. Its was a silly short sighted decision in my opinion.

      Lots to look forward to in the coming months, We have finals, WC qualifiers, The A-league all stars match, Free to air tv deal for next season. Big opportunities for the FFA and football. Its critical they get this right. I feel they definitely have the right personnel in place at the FFA to finally unlock the potential of football. Its been a brilliant season and long may it continue. Keep your eyes on the ball because we cant let this opportunity slip past us again.

      • March 19th 2013 @ 4:09pm
        Ben said | March 19th 2013 @ 4:09pm | ! Report

        Very well said. +1

    • March 19th 2013 @ 9:50am
      tk said | March 19th 2013 @ 9:50am | ! Report

      Lets not get too carried away on the fan engagement. The ffa have engaged with SOME of the fans – those in sydney and melbourne. The irony being that none of the clubs from these cities won premierships or contested the grand final in the last two seasons. I would have expected the ffa to put effort in across the board espeicially when the clubs outside of sydbourne had a platform of successful performance that could have been further tended to and built upon to solidify the gains made from club success. Brisbane in paticular has been left in the cold after two seasons of making serious in-roads in a community which is dominated by league. I’ll expect the ffa to look up from the ball and see what is going on across the whole field in the coming year to use the lessons from this year to deliver fan engagement beyond their current focus.

      • March 20th 2013 @ 1:53pm
        phutbol said | March 20th 2013 @ 1:53pm | ! Report

        No responsibility on the clubs themselves to engage with their own fans then tk? Classic example AU with their fans upset about stadium treatment. i dont know the ins and outs of the specific issues but if there hardcore/main supporters are staging protests one would think relations between club and fans/community could be handled a little better perhaps…

        I dont think the FFA’s job should be to engage a clubs support base on its behalf. Assist with ideas, and non-cash resources for sure, but its in the clubs commercial interests to do these things as well, and it should be a given.

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