The A-League is approaching the end of its tenth year and has turned into a viable domestic competition.
The NSL, which was inept, often corrupt, inward looking, often ethnic based and bankrupt of both ideas and revenue, was the perfect example of how not to run a national football competition.
In the mid to late 1970s they managed to walk away from a national broadcast deal with Channel Nine, backed by Kerry Packer and Rupert Murdoch, and in doing so made enemies of the two most powerful media companies in Australia.
The most important thing about the first season of the A-League was changing the approach. As we countdown the finalisation of our tenth year it’s edifying to look back, if for no other reason than to appreciate how much and how little things have changed.
The evolution of football in Australia still has a long way to go. It’s astonishing to see how far we have come. Arguably the most important factor has been the mainstream’s acceptance of the A-League under David Gallop’s watch. The skill levels have also improved out of sight, the difference between the first and tenth seasons is staggering.
It is also worth noting that the AFL, NRL and cricket [with the help of Big Bash League] are still the kings of the media. Although who would have believed football would catch and pass rugby union in revenue and media and the Socceroos would be challenging cricket as the country’s top national side.
Sport in the 20th century changed from individual sports like boxing, cycling and billiards and the national teams in cricket and tennis to code-based sports via the superior broadcast schedules they could offer the TV networks.
The 1955 Sydney revolution, when ethnic-based football teams broke away from district associations, and the previously mentioned back-stabbing of Packer and Murdock ensured football in Australia would not take part in the change of sporting interest.
Today’s landscape, or should I say from around the start of YouTube coupled with widespread use of the Internet, has allowed football to re-emerge. Our strengths have always been our player base, even if many in the base supported other codes, and the global nature of our game.
Who can forget the 1997 failure to make the World Cup, nor the 2005 qualifying game nor the efforts of the 2006 World Cup side. These three events helped keep the A-League become viable in its early years. There have been many doubters along the way and many from within have questioned the path taken over the last ten years.
The Asian Cup and Cricket World Cup both recently finished. What amazed me was despite the mega cricket crowds for Australia, India, New Zealand and England, the crowd average over both competitions was around the 20,000. This was in spite of the extra media, tradition and history cricket enjoys over football.
Many journalist today argue that a football match between Australian and Japan is more important than a cricket Test match between Australian and England. Whether it is or not is not that important, but that many traditional media people think it is and that in itself is huge.
Cricket with the Big Bash has made all other sports take note of how things can change.
I don’t think football saw the Big Bash League coming and even if they did there is little they could do to stop it. However, the A-League has survived and according to media reports has all free-to-air networks willing to bid for its broadcast rights, if the price is right.
Maybe the most important aspect of the A-League’s survival is that few people under 20 would remember the NSL, nor the issues they had. Moreover they would have seen a growing code while other codes have falling numbers, which a Channel Nine Melbourne news item highlights.
FFA is developing a Whole of Football plan to help the sport connect with its player base. The football is improving, free-to-air networks are showing an interest, the player base is increasing, media is increasing and new structures and competitions have been created.
All this has happened because the A-League has survived, and the evolution continues.