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Time to re-align the stars for Australian football

The FFA need to find a balance between keeping the A-League competitive, but also keeping players in Australia. (AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts)
Roar Guru
8th March, 2016
80

Football in Australia has bucket loads of potential if run correctly, but that potential has never truly been capitalised on.

The FFA really need to knuckle down and work out the best way to keep growing the sport in the short term. The next 12 months will be critical in its journey, and below are six points (both short and long term) that the FFA must concentrate on right away.

New TV deal
This will be the biggest TV deal in the sport’s history. There’s no doubt that the game is worth more now than it was three years ago.

Broadcast revenue is where the majority of the game’s money comes from, so let’s hope it’s enough to keep growing and promoting the competition, not just to keep it afloat for another three to four years. If we stand still we’re going backwards.

Exposure is another big one, as it’s a massive key to growing the game. The A-League needs to partner with a commercial free-to-air broadcaster, even on a secondary channel like GO, Gem, 7TWO, 7mate etc.

A good deal for the code and a smart allocation of the potential funds would go a long way to improving the game. I believe CEO David Gallop’s time at the FFA will be heavily measured by what he can do at the negotiating table.

Allow for a proper football market
The FFA needs to allow transfer fees between A-League clubs without restrictions, making for an open football economy, just as we see in every other country.

The popular belief has always been that this would cripple the smaller clubs, but on the contrary, this would take the A-League and Australian football to another level. Yes, the more powerful clubs would, in theory, benefit by having the deepest pockets, and supposedly being able to sign the best young players in the country, but all for a fair and reasonable price in today’s market.

It would provide the smaller clubs much-needed funds and sharpen their focus on continuous quality youth development. And in an era where most or all A-League clubs are now building academies and have teams in state NPL competitions, this would be a massive win-win for the entire Australian football community.

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The other one would be to banish the ridiculous $10,000 maximum transfer fees allowed from A-League clubs to NPL outfits for their best talents. This rule is archaic and keeps the old soccer/new football divide going. There shouldn’t be a maximum fee in place, but if it’s needed, I’m sure A-League clubs could pay local clubs up to $50,000 for their best young talents. This would be a fairer amount and a massive incentive for suburban and NPL clubs.

Marquee players
This topic comes up all the time and it needs to be addressed for next season. Obviously, A-League clubs can’t compete with wages in the MLS or the Chinese Super League, but football’s a worldwide market and there are many top players out there.

On our shores, having a couple of players with a recognisable name is still important. Tim Cahill comes to mind, and the FFA together with the clubs should be working overtime to make it happen for next season. I don’t think he’d dominate this league like many predict, but he’d give it massive dose of credibility to both mainstream and corporate Australia.

Having said that, yes, big name players that people know would be great, but real football fans would not be complaining if every club in the competition had players like Besart Berisha, Thomas Broich or Bruno Fornaroli in every starting XI. It’s about finding the right players, and they don’t all cost $3 million a season. Scouting and contacts are key here.

Second division
I don’t think this is something that’s on the cards right away, as I don’t think the FFA has the sufficient funds, but it’s the next step towards having promotion and relegation in Australia.

The FFA needs to start planning for this. Get a separate second division up and running, with both current and new teams being able to apply to be in the comp. Many of the old NSL powerhouse clubs come to mind, but also some potential new clubs could apply.

At this stage, promotion/relegation is a pipedream in Australia. I would love to see it happen, but financially speaking it’s at least a decade away, and that’s only if the game keeps growing both in popularity and finances.

Football infrastructure
It’s great to see that Adelaide have a great new training base at Playford, the Mariners have their centre of excellence, and Brisbane have just announced their new training base will be at Logan. These training facilities and academies are a must for all the A-League clubs and are way overdue.

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Parramatta Stadium is being rebuilt as a 30,000-seater, which is fantastic for the Wanderers and the A-League. This is something that’s been lacking in the first ten years of the league, and hopefully this momentum keeps growing as the clubs and sport need it.

The FFA must also keep driving to secure better facilities for the sport’s grassroots clubs, where the numbers are huge and where investment and funding is lacking. Second tier grounds for competitions such as the FFA Cup are crucial for the sport.

Advertise and promote the league
This hasn’t been done for probably the last eight to nine seasons, or at least nowhere near well enough. This point is just as important to the competition’s health as the other five. It is a big reason why many people still consider the A-League and football to be a niche sport in Australia, because it’s never mass marketed to the general public.

The first season had a great TV ad with New Zealand rapper Scribe and everyone loved it. FFA spent decent coin on a marketing and advertising budget that year, but since then things have gone quiet. Did they think they’d made it to the big time?

Even the AFL, the biggest sporting juggernaut in the country, spends massive dollars on advertising every year. They know it is essential to keep the momentum going.

The FFA doesn’t have a war chest of cash to spend on advertising like the AFL and Big Bash League do, but it needs to get smarter with its advertising, starting with the people who already play, understand and love the game.

There’s a huge junior player base whom they haven’t even touched the surface with. Things like targeted promotions with junior clubs in their cities, giveaways, throw in a few free tickets here and there, it’s all part of it.

We now have a good on-field product, it’s competitive, watchable and very marketable, which can’t be said for all 11 seasons. We’ve all enjoyed seeing the product grow and improve from day one. But it’s now the off-field incompetence or constant standstill that’s letting the game down, in many instances it’s crippling the game and not allowing it to thrive. That needs to change.

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There are many more points I could go on with here, but I’ll hold some material back for future posts. Do you agree? What would you do differently or implement today if you were the FFA?