It’s 10 years into the A-League’s short existence, but football still has a long way to go in Australia.
After almost 10 great seasons of ups and downs, the code can look back and see where it’s come from to what it is today, which is a remarkable turnaround.
The numbers don’t lie, the A-League attracts over 13,000 per game for 135 games per year, and has TV ratings on Fox of 70,000 people per game. It has another 100,000 per game for Friday nights on SBS.
The Socceroos are now Asian Cup champions, we had a smashing Asian Cup tournament on all levels here in January. Things are going well, but to keep growing it must now take it up another couple of notches and keep evolving.
Here’s my list of a few issues which the code faces today, and what I think we should do to rectify those issues, which if done right could take the A-League to the next level.
1. Ownership model
Almost all the clubs have had their own ownership issues in the last decade. The Jets and the Mariners have them at the moment.
The Melbourne Heart/City ownership issues have now been resolved by the City Group. In future, I think the FFA should have a rule in place that each club has to have a group of owners, maybe a minimum of three or four individuals, so clubs aren’t left at the whim of one person’s wealth!
Also, once a bigger and better TV deal is signed and all clubs are guaranteed more cash every year, the FFA should stipulate an expansion fee for all new clubs coming in. Prospective owners should have a $5-million guarantee in the bank, so that if a club goes belly up, the FFA has the funds to run that club until they can find another solution.
2. Marquee situation
I think it’s time for the FFA to drive the marquee concept. We’ve seen what true marquees like Alessandro Del Piero, Emile Heskey and Shinji Ono did for the game.
They drove up attendances, sponsorships, TV audiences, YouTube hits, and overall interest in the sport and the league.
Granted, our clubs can’t afford what MLS clubs are throwing around these days. Players like Kaka and Clint Dempsey are on yearly salaries of $6m-$7m in the US. But if from the next TV rights deal onwards, each club were given an extra $1m or $2m per year for a marquee player wage, that’d go a long way.
You can sign a very good player when you’re offering those sort of wages. I know it’s extra money spent, but in any business you need to spend money to make money. And this extra spend will in turn make more money for the sport in the years to come with future TV broadcasting deals.
3. Club academies/training facilities
We’ve had good progress on this in the last two years, and by 2016 all A-League clubs will have teams playing in their state NPL divisions.
So clubs will have an NPL team, a Youth League team and an A-League team which is great for development.
There’s also been some movement in terms of facilities, with Melbourne City unveiling their new $15-million training base last week. I believe Brisbane Roar will be moving into new training facilities and offices very soon, and Adelaide United have struck a deal with a local council in their northern suburbs to move to new training facilities.
And now that City have swanky new facilities, I expect Victory to be working on something behind the scenes.
There’s been plenty of talk on this topic for a while now, about how many teams we should have in the A-League, to where these new clubs should come from.
New clubs from Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Geelong, Perth, Adelaide, New Zealand, and even Singapore and Indonesia have been bandied around but nobody knows exactly what’ll happen. For me, we need two new clubs in the medium term, but I wouldn’t rush into it.
I’d go with one new club at a time. I think probably Wollongong should come in next, and then two-to-three years later we could look at a third Victorian club, either from suburban Melbourne or Geelong, or another club from Queensland.
I think expansion is too important to the A-League for it to go pear-shaped again, and one new club at a time seems reasonable to me. Now I know that wouldn’t please TV networks, as it doesn’t generate an extra game per week, but we have to look at the bigger picture.
5. Existing club issues
At the moment the Central Coast Mariners and the Newcastle Jets have huge issues, which largely revolve around poor management and ownership. I think that Newcastle under Nathan Tinkler can turn things around, and we’ve seen brief moments of that already.
The player sackings were a farce, but I’ve liked a few of their new signings. Nigel Boogard is also a great pickup for next season and a potential captain.
The Mariners are in a smaller geographical area, but their owner Mike Charlesworth has been in the headlines for the wrong reasons way too many times this season.
They’ve already had so much success and with a new coach (Mike Mulvey perhaps) and a couple of new faces, things can turn around very quickly, and they can starting getting a few more bums on seats and less ridiculous statements from their current owners.
6. TV rights
Another much discussed topic is the next TV rights deal. There’s been rumours that the FFA aren’t happy with SBS, which is why they helped the ABC financially to take the Asian Cup rights. There are also rumours that they want out early from the current deal.
I’ve heard many arguments both for and against, and I’m no TV rights expert, but I’d expect the next deal to be a bigger deal than the current annual $36m-$40m.
In 2017 the A-League would’ve been around for 12 years, an established league, with many Socceroos playing in it, and the sport still has so much growth potential.