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Evolving the Australian football structure (Part 2)

The Wanderers' arrival created a much-needed local derby in the A-League. (AAP Image/Steve Christo
Roar Guru
4th March, 2015
21

Following on from Part 1, it is important in terms of the expansion debate to understand why North Queensland and Gold Coast failed.

It wasn’t necessarily the fact that they were regional teams, but rather the way the new teams were introduced.

Gold Coast notoriously had relatively high ticket prices based on the fact they were playing out of a new stadium at Robina and the state government were looking to recoup their investment. Clive Palmer was also loathe to reduce prices because he felt the fans were watching a “high quality entertainment product” and should pay accordingly.

This suppressed the size of the initial crowds to the point where they were underwhelming. This issue was then exacerbated by a reductionist accounting-based decision to only lease one stand and restrict the capacity to 5000. The result being that crowds fell even further.

To revisit my earlier piece, even today this Melbourne Victory founding member recalls that tickets prices were not only set at an economical price but that the administrators of the time had the wit to offer discounts for the initial home games of the inaugural season at the old Olympic park.

An even greater example is when the currently maligned Nathan Tinkler took charge of the Newcastle Jets. Confident in his mining boom backed wealth he immediately lowered and subsidised season ticket prices, leading to an upsurge in membership numbers.

This is despite the fact that he would have been experiencing an accounting loss in this specific business area.

Looking toward the current controversies surrounding Tinkler and his administration of the Jets, now that his business empire is under pressure, the one facet of the club that is used as a retort is the healthy size of the 10,000 strong membership base.

Furthermore, it is the size and resilience of that membership base that might just make the difference as to whether the FFA would be able to politically justify pulling plug on the Jets if Tinkler relinquishes his ownership or loses the license.

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The point is that getting people through the door and engaged in the live experience from the outset is the most vital aspect. Ticket pricing needs to be seen and used as a form of investment as it recoups the benefits in other areas.

The Asian Cup is fresh in the memories of readers. The AFC no doubt makes most of the money from the broadcast rights but the strategy of combining this with highly cheap ticket prices, which attracted people into the stadiums, was a good mix.

The sight of respectably full to packed boutique stadiums in broadcast feeds and highlight reels enhance the presentation of the product being broadcast.

In expanding the national competition the FFA should look to ‘bottom-up’ sources to combine with a ‘top-down’ mindset that is in vogue today, which involves financial stability via broadcast and top-end sponsorship revenue.

An example of the bottom-up approach is allowing actual fan and small-business involvement.

The bid for a Canberra team had this mix but the FFA were hesitant on the idea of a Canberra-based team. Though whether an A-League team introduced into Canberra would have been successful or not is hypothetical, and we’ll never know the answer.

Nevertheless, I believe that it was well placed to being successful and it was a mistake to overlook the bid. The Canberra bid was based on long-term promotion within the community and signing up pre-members, and was an excellent case study in how bids for teams should be run.

This can be done through a variety of ways like partial ownership and board representation through supporters and small business trusts. This is a form of crowdsourcing that can be utilised for further revenue raising in the future – outside of mere season ticket sales.

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The two approaches when combined together make for a good aggregate impact.

A good way to illustrate the point was the A-League’s growth in Sydney over the past few years.

On the Sydney FC side of the spectrum there was some excellent ‘top-down’ mainstream media and public interest generated by the signing of Alessandro Del Piero. On the other side, Western Sydney were working from the ‘ground-up’ model based largely on fan and community engagement.

The result was that by season’s end both clubs had generated excellent mainstream media and public interest in the A-League and in the whole of Sydney. Since that time the A-League in Sydney has been stronger for it.

It is not too outrageous to suggest that the derby between the two teams is now a notable fixture on the Sydney sporting calendar and embedded in the sporting fabric of the city.

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