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How to fix football in Australia

The Wanderers face the Victory this weekend, with the home side aiming to secure a top-three spot. (AAP Image/Dean Lewins)
Roar Guru
3rd March, 2017
6

The recent demolition of both Brisbane Roar and Western Sydney in their AFC Champions League adventures – losing 6-0 to Ulsan Hyundai and 5-1 to Shanghai SPIG respectively – seems to have set the stage for an honest conversation.

Many of the talking points were raised by Mark Rudan and Mark Bosnich in the post-game commentary but this article will begin where all good things begin – the investment climate.

Despite the clamour for further A-League expansion, there needs to be an adjustment and evolution of the model into which the A-League is being expanded.

This has been an issue which has propped its head up over the inaugural years of the A-League, owners have long been frustrated over lack of control of intellectual Property rights, merchandising revenue, sponsorship veto, websites and most significantly the management of the A-League.

The most famous example is perhaps the outspoken Clive Palmer who for all his perceived faults as an A-League franchise owner raised valid discussion points.

It’s hard not to escape the feeling the FFA have wanted to have their cake (near-full control over the A-League) and eat it too. That is, have lots of investors throw their money into loss-making enterprises while accepting there isn’t much they can do to innovate their operations of a given A-League franchise.

One of the issues holding up the prospect of expansion is the FFA wondering why there is lukewarm interest from investors and this unfortunately means the FFA has to foot the bill for losses instead of having a gullible owner picking up that tab.

Firstly, it needs to asserted the A-League needs to become autonomous, not independent.

Otherwise there will end up being a situation that as the A-League slowly becomes the focal point of power in Australian football in place of the Socceroos, a situation similar to England where the English Premier League is paramount.

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Secondly, the A-League chairman should elect or appoint the head of A-League position – as opposed to the FFA.

This means any prospective investors will have more confidence the A-League will adopt club-friendly policies along with having a form of spokesperson within the game to articulate their interest – akin to the Professional Footballers Association (PFA) head.

Thirdly of course A-League clubs should have rights over their websites which in the modern digital age is a prospectively vital conduit for innovation and revenue streams – for example clubs generating their own content and broadcast deals in relation to off-season fixtures against European or South American powerhouses.

There is certainly the prospect that some club administrators may “make a hash” of certain aspects of administration or marketing, but allowing greater scope of free market forces and successful innovating clubs to reap the rewards and benefits would be example enough for others to “lift their game” if they are to compete off the park.

Of course also required to ensure an attractive investment is the capacity for cost controls – which involves the prudent use of a salary cap.

In the wake of Brisbane’s defeat, Mark Bosnich criticised the salary cap as “archaic”.

The salary cap provides a vitally important role, in that it keeps a lid on player wages and helps prevent a financially unhealthy situation.

For example the rise of the Premier League and its broadcast deals has not necessarily led to a more financially healthy status for the English football fraternity given the extra money has effectively gone to inflating player wages and transfer fees which has eaten into profitability.

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Many Asian leagues have playing squads with a wage budget many multiples that of A-League clubs, yet A-League clubs have managed to be generally competitive.

If the salary cap is removed the A-League will witness a rise in wages for what will more or less amount to the same talent pool.

An individual player can still achieve a financially rewarding career in football by playing in a higher paying overseas league, therefore the sport is in a position to offer a lucrative career in comparison to other Australian sports and the A-League salary cap effectively ensures the costs involved are effectively outsourced.

As A-League broadcast deals yield increasingly higher values, profitability needs to be ensured so that football in Australia has the means to invest in what is currently its most critical area – its own infrastructure and most particularly its own Boutique stadiums.

That way exorbitant leasing costs can be avoided in some circumstances.

Instead, a better solution should be that teams competing in the AFC Champions League should be able to have a temporarily expanded salary cap and squad sizes – or an extra Marquee spot – to bring in higher quality players to help competitiveness in the AFC Champions League.

Alternatively there is the matter of re-jigging the nature of the cap to one where it is pegged to a teams given revenue as opposed to be fixed for all teams.

This may favour the urban Melbourne and Sydney teams but may ensure a balance is struck between a competitive domestic league locally and a competitive showing abroad, eg have Australian versions of what Dutch teams PSV Eindhoven or Ajax are to the UEFA Champions League.

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Of course changing the finals series from top six which rewards mediocrity to a more cut-throat top four may help ensure the competitive instinct of competing teams is sharper.

A rather excellent point however was raised in the area of transfer fees to NPL clubs and lower – which is currently restricted in the region of $7000.

It’s actually an excellent idea to encourage NPL clubs to become development clubs. Earning money via transfer fees on top of other trickle down streams like FFA Cup gate revenue helps to ensure funds become available for further rejuvenation of grassroots.

In terms of the on-park merits, clubs being able to develop systems which deviate from the rather rigid one-size-fits-all FFA curriculum which will not necessarily yield better results makes for some potentially diversity in the talent being developed at youth level.

Having a richer NPL level can also be helpful for the early forging of a second tier – or A2 league – and all the Promotion-Relegation benefits it brings.

Additionally, a healthy NPL tier can act as a testing ground for community responsiveness to any potential “market” for an expansion team – a launching pad as it were for new A-League teams.

The “kids” Mark Rudan referred to struggling to make the grade would have something of higher quality to “fall back on”.

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