The Roar
The Roar


Why football growth is a numbers game

David Gallop (AFP Photo/Peter Parks)
Roar Guru
19th December, 2016

Trend analyses and mathematical relationships are used by business and government to determine or estimate future actives – but the same analyses are instructive when it comes to a plan to grown football in Australia.

Technology and business has a model that states a new technology will struggle to take hold. People very keen and on the outskirts start to take it up, and then movers and shakers who want to appear ahead of the line – as well as people who are into being ‘one of the first’ – start using. Most are cautious and not too sure on spending time or resources on something relatively unknown.

However, a change takes place at about the 15 per cent usage mark, and once the 15 per cent mark is reached usage rises to 85 per cent within seven years. The last 15 per cent can take forever because some people will keep to old ways and in an economic sense cannot change. Some examples are colour TV, FM radio, email and using the web to look things up.

Another mathematical trend is in the study of human behaviour. Human behaviour usually requires a higher standard that 15 per cent to change a general trend – however, once a trend is established it can expand rapidly.

A great example was the way the Rubiks Cube exploded rapidly but then faded even faster. History is full of similar examples: long hair for boys, mini-skirts, sex before marriage et cetera. All these had a slow build and then exploded, with some then fading quickly.

In sport there has been a similar trend over the last, say, 130 years. Pre-1900s to World War I was dominated by boxing and more physical sports. The first modern Olympics in 1896 also introduced a number of sports, mostly individual sports, to a wider audience.

After the first world war individual sports – sports like boxing, tennis, golf or cycling – maintained a huge following. Even snooker was huge.

In the 60s I can recall boxing on TV on Monday night being a must watch.

During the early 60s TV networks starting showing team and national sports – AFL, rugby league and cricket – and by the end of the 60s and into the early 70s team sports had taken over as preferred options. It was a massive change from individual sports.


The We are Football whole of football report released in 2014 detailed that only 18 per cent of the playing base are TV viewers, which compared poorly with the 86-per-cent average of our other major codes.

From my personal experience domestic football was never discussed in the pre-A-League days, with the exception being once every four years during the World Cup. Any other discussion was largely about the EPL and the Champions League.

Post-A-League has seen a rise in football discussion. While 18 per cent is low, it is not too far away from reaching the point of becoming common.

The tipping for this sort of behavioural shift comes at around the 25-per-cent to 28-per-cent mark. This means once between a quarter and a third of people in teams start talking about football, others will do the same – if human behavioural analysis is correct.

If we can reach 25 to 28 per cent – which is no small ask, the difference between 18 per cent and 28 per cent being a 55-per-cent increase – ratings should surge. This is why the next media deal is so important.

Firstly, we need revenue to fund the teams and expand the competition so it does not become stale and, secondly, we need to be on a commercial free-to-air station to help with the growth.

History says once we hit the mythical pre-determined target number, growth explodes – 80 to 85 per cent interest could happen very quickly. With our player number strength, this would be lead to a surge in ratings.

Gallop and the FFA team undertaking the media deal have a great balancing act to perform: enough funds to run the league at a high level and enough reach to help convert the player base to watchers.