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Evolving Australia's football structure (Part 1)

David Gallop and FFA might now want South Melbourne in the comp. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch)
Roar Guru
2nd March, 2015
29

Reading through recent musings concerning A-League expansion and speculation about the opportunity for significantly increased revenue into the sport from broadcast sources, football is clearly facing some important policy decisions in the short term, and is also at a crucial point in the medium term.

Taking the wider view, we are reaching the end of a phase that began in the early 2000s with the Oceania Cup flop, which paved the way for the formation of the FFA and the A-League, culminating in Asian Cup glory at home.

This has by no means been perfect and can be characterised by two steps forward and one step back.

As the sport heads into the next phase it is important to identify where football’s competitive advantage lies and most crucially hedge against the potential risks posed to professional sport posed by a sports business model increasingly focused on institutional broadcast revenue.

‘Leanness’, ‘stability’ and ‘pervasiveness’ are key words, and it is useful to understand that the gravity of power is set to transition away from the national team to the A-League teams as individual entities.

Leanness in the sense that the incoming increase of revenue and the energy it represents must not be channelled in such a way to make the A-League and its structure bloated.

Listening to David Gallop’s sentiments about learning from the mistakes of North Queensland and Gold Coast United and looking to putting teams in metropolitan areas – or “fishing where the fish are” – it struck me that this was once again an over-correction on the expansion failures of the past, and an excessive focus on gearing the structure of the A-League to suit broadcast conditions.

In terms of adapting the analogy used, it’s worth noting that “fishing where the fish are” and focusing too much fishing industry resources in one area prospectively leads to over-fishing. Despite initially higher yields of fish a crash in population occurs, which brings down the industry built around it.

Live by broadcast revenue, die by broadcast revenue.

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Institutional broadcast revenues can ensure spectacular highs in income can be reached, but the inverse of that is that any crash in income can be potentially crippling.

Consequently, in terms of ensuring stability, it isn’t necessarily a good idea for football to hedge itself unhealthily close to an industry experiencing transitional instability when pondering the benefits of ‘higher yielding’ mainstream free-to-air exposure in place of ‘lower yielding’ government-backed networks because of the risks involved.

A good precedent can be seen in the impact on the lower English Football League tiers of the collapse of ITV Digital back in 2002.

Pervasiveness applies in terms of expansion.

It would be a mistake to over-correct the mistakes of previously expanding into regional teams and put third metropolitan teams in Melbourne and Sydney, where there is no organic demand for them, in order to artificially maximise short-term cyclical broadcast revenue.

In terms of the business model, the FFA should avoid the mistake of putting too many proverbial eggs in the institutional broadcast revenue basket and instead should look to diversify – a topic covered in part 2.

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