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Time to release football from its shackles

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
5th February, 2017
27

With the TV rights out of the way the FFA knows exactly how many dollars and cents they have to play with, so they need to start planning how and where to spend its newfound funding.

The TV money won’t be enough to fix all of football’s problems, but if it were to be spent wisely, it could go a long way to improving the game.

This has been another year of consolidation and steady growth, but with more resources available than ever before the FFA really needs to take the game to the next level. Let’s hope the next 12 months are not consumed by off-field politics now that FIFA has reaffirmed its stance by upholding the March deadline for the FFA to make structural changes to its board and to how football is run in Australia.

I’ve come up with five strategies that need to be implemented by the game’s administration, and some of them won’t cost much to implement.

But before we can analyse any of the five, the salary cap should be increased to $3 million per year from next season, and the FFA should give the clubs an extra $1 million, bringing the total distribution to $4 million per club per year.

1. Expansion
The current ten-club setup is getting a bit long in the tooth and the product has become stale at times because of it. The much-hyped expansion is long overdue, and hopefully the FFA will release their criteria as soon as possible to give prospective clubs time to set up for a start by the 2018-19 season at the latest.

The game is thriving at the community level, so I can’t understand why the FFA hasn’t already acted. The longer we sit still, the longer it will take to realise the game’s potential, and we may even lose the momentum football has managed to build. You need to strike while the iron’s hot, as they say.

2. National second division
This is a no-brainer. This code, just like any other, needs to play to its strengths, and its biggest strength is community and grassroots participation. What better way to bring the professional and grassroots levels together than by giving many of the state league clubs an opportunity to make the big time?

Start the competition as a semi-pro division, which will keep costs down, and televise at least one game per week on Fox Sports to give it the exposure it needs to grow. Make it a 12 to 14 team competition that could be expanded in future.

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All future A-League teams can come from this division – and promotion and relegation could be put in place in a decade or so – but the main purpose for a second-tier in the short term is to give the game another layer and to create more opportunities to young players, coaches and administrators to show their wares.

3. Boutique stadia
This is the toughest strategy to implement, but if we don’t start planning for it today, it might never happen. At the moment Sydney FC, Brisbane and Wellington play in stadia that are way too big for them, and it does so much damage to clubs and to the league when matches are played at grounds that are two-thirds or more empty. It devalues the entire product. The 30,000-seat stadia, like AAMI Park and the new Wanderland, are perfectly sized venues for the A-League.

4. Ticket prices
The league and its clubs let themselves down big time in this area. I understand sport is a business, but prices need to be uniform across the league as much as possible.
At the moment a general admission ticket can range from $20 to almost $40 in different cities for the same basic access, and this is where the FFA can help the clubs, which in turn will help themselves and the game, by using the additional $1 million grant – which I mentioned earlier – to subsidise all general admission tickets at all grounds to around $25 and kids tickets to no more than $10.

This will help to get more bums on seats at all venues, which helps the clubs’ bottom lines, which is what they need. This will also help to increase membership. A nice touch would be to give all registered players under the age of 16 a free season pass to all A-League matches. This would be a great move by the FFA to grow the fan base by investing at the grassroots level, which in turn will help grow the the entire sport.

5. Fixturing
On paper this is the easiest and cheapest strategy to implement. How is it possible that before round 18 this season some teams have already played each other three times while others have played each other only once? We’ve now had three Melbourne derbies in 18 match weekends, which is way too many too quickly.

The entire fixture needs a massive overhaul for next season and beyond. There should be no more back-to-back-to-back home or away games for any clubs. Even two home games within seven days for any team should be an exception and not the rule. Asian Champions League clubs should have a flexible domestic fixture to avoid having their Asian progress hindered, as is the norm in many other countries. Again, having more clubs in the competition will fix many of our current fixturing issues.

These are my five strategies to get the league humming along towards its next phase. I’m sure the FFA would have some sort of plan, but let’s see what they can come up with.

If you were in the FFA hot seat, What changes would you like to see made? What changes would you implement for next season?

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