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Conversion from players to fans: The FFA's biggest issue

Roar Guru
3rd October, 2016
62

Hopefully I can do this topic of players becoming fans of the A-League justice, as it’s the single biggest issue we have in football in Australia.

My approach is to briefly explain the issue including the Australian sporting environment, add some obstacles, explain what research and other things have been done and what is missing.

In 2014, the FFA put numbers to what we all in our hearts already knew, that the playing base has a conversion rate of 18 per cent compared to an average across the other codes of 86 per cent.

The degree is both disheartening and certainly an opportunity to grow.

While this represents an opportunity, it does also scream out ‘why so low?’. The answer is difficult to accept in that football’s support base is not what we think or want.

We have all been at training or at a Saturday match when what happened at the NRL or AFL the night before or the next day is what is being talked about.

Giving FFA credit, they did the research and published the figures without fear. FFA went further and put forward their vision on what could be, and a plan of how to get there.

In the way are the NRL, AFL and cricket. Any new player, as is the A-League trying to break into an existing market is difficult. We should be under no illusions that the Australia’s sporting market is finite and relatively small, with many fans rabidly addicted to their codes.

To break in with a fraction of the budget and a fraction of the media and little tradition is difficult. Marketing experts will tell you a challenging product messaging must be consistent, ongoing and simple.

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FFA have been very disciplined and strategic, with key simple messages; ‘Old Soccer is New Football’, ‘We Are Football’. The Socceroos represent Australia better than any other code on the international stage.

FFA’s report from 2014 concluded that to grow football, it needs to capture more of what’s referred to as mainstream Australia.

I would add to this that FFA have recognised the need in going mainstream not to distance itself too far from football’s traditions.

FFA identified a number of measures and to become more acceptable in the eyes of the mainstream, including getting better media, improving technical aspects across the board including players, coaches, and referees, and getting greater access an acceptance in schools Australia-wide. All of these have largely been achieved and have helped build a number of foundation stones.

The missing link in the foundation stone is a free-to-air broadcaster partner to help grow the game.

If we are fair, much more needs to be done. FFA have largely ignored the grassroots.

I wrote way back at Season 2 that Sydney FC had a board that could run BHP or Westpac but struggle with the local park canteen.

I see an extension of this in both the current board and the direction they have sent their management team on. Additionally the same would apply to many A-League team owners.

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From my point of view the lack of understanding at park team level needs to be addressed. My hope is the new A-League head coming from an association background has this knowledge.

I have often bemoaned the fact that maybe as little as four to five thousand people could turn football around. If we assume 1,000 teams with each team having a committee of six, those committee members have an ability to influence their players.

In the main, these committee members are already football folk, and by and large would be seen as mainstream.

FFA and the A-League clubs need to give something to the park teams or many things to generate support. Essentially having park team committees promote the A-League to their players.

Some suggestions, let park teams sell tickets and memberships, and give then say 10 per cent of the ticket price as commission. Give all committee members a general admission pass to all A-League matches.

Promotion and relegation, B-League and all other recent calls need football to have a far greater and broader support base than it currently does, our TV ratings are low by comparison to the other major codes.

The answer lies in the player base and their broader family connections. We can get access to the playing group via the park team committees and I have never seen any attempt to do so.

Over to The Roar and your thoughts on how to grow the base, and do you think I am right.

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