Australia’s revamped domestic competition has encompassed some turbulent times in its short history, however there’s an overwhelming feeling of excitement and optimism among A-League clubs and the football community in recent times.
The product on the pitch is seemingly improving each season; crowds and television rating continue to escalate, while the new $160 million, four-year deal with Fox Sports and SBS will aid the game’s growth and underpin football into its next stage of development.
While football is continuing to make inroads, the structure of the A-League has always polarised opinion among fans of the code. The on-going debate lingers – should a nationwide FFA Cup replace the A-League finals series?
Many fans argue that a first past the post structure is the best and fairest way to determine the league champion, as opposed to a knockout based system – where luck can play its part in a one-off fixture.
This method of determining the league winner can be seen invariably around the globe, where the domestic league and cup are habitually separate, creating two unique competitions.
It is true; Australia is one of the very few nations in the world, in conjunction with the America’s Major League Soccer competition, to have a post-season play-off system. In football terms, it may not be the rational way to determine the nation’s champion; however it is a sporting tradition that is unique to these particular nations.
What works abroad doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best method over here. For instance, promotion and relegation go hand-in-hand in Europe; it is part and parcel of football’s ethos. In Australia, however, this system simply wouldn’t be financially viable, despite what the Asian Football Confederation believes.
Relegated clubs would struggle to stay afloat, and more often than not die a painful death. The fiscal demands would be far too difficult for club’s to handle, while the demand for a countrywide second-tier sport in Australia just isn’t there for elite competition. Despite an enhanced media deal, football doesn’t have the luxury of a $1 billion windfall.
When we analyse the Australian sporting market, a post-season finals series fits like a glove. It keeps interest high during the regular campaign, and importantly provides a major boost in TV ratings, crowd numbers, and provides the governing body with an increase in financial support.
Without the play-off series, interest will dwindle considerably when clubs are seemingly out of contention for the championship, or Asian Champions League positions. The average football fan, let alone sporting enthusiast, wouldn’t be interested in seeing their club finish mid-table without the opportunity of post-season glory.
Like it or not, the finals series is part of Australia’s DNA, and it won’t be altered any time soon. The notion of let’s replace the finals with a cup competition wouldn’t capture the excitement, nor the imagination of the Australian sporting landscape.
The sentiment of having a nationwide cup competition, along with a finals series is the best solution. The A-League will still have its usual post-season appeal, while the cup competition will be a fantastic opportunity to link the grassroots of the code with the elite clubs around the country.
Watching some of the renowned clubs from the now-defunct National Soccer League lock horns with the likes of Brisbane Roar and Melbourne Victory would be a sight worth seeing.
Let’s not forget, clubs in the vein of South Melbourne, Sydney United and Melbourne Knights produced a crop of brilliant footballers, many whom were part of the Socceroos’ golden generation from the 2006 and 2010 World Cup campaigns. These clubs may not be on the national stage anymore but they are still playing an integral part in developing and nurturing the next generation of young players.
An FFA Cup would be a worthwhile spectacle, but it would also be a chance for the football community to pay their respects to the clubs that help cultivate and grow football, at a time when the code had very little support in the mainstream sporting market.
An FFA Cup competition may be on standby for the moment, but its imminent introduction will expand football’s reach throughout the local communities, and bring a different dimension which is currently lacking in the code.
The cup, in tandem with the finals series, would both play a significant role within the sport, in spite of what some supporters may think. A business model cannot simply be mirrored on what works overseas; each market has its own unique characteristics and elements to success.
The finals series is here to stay. It’s in Australia’s blood – akin to our American neighbours – and a ritual that has featured heavily at the elite level of our major sporting codes.
– Courtesy of Goal Weekly. Follow Robbie on Twiiter @RobertDiFabio