Controversy – A prolonged public disagreement or heated discussion. A perfect word to sum up what is about to occur when people are finished reading this article, especially AFL fans.
I know this article will divide opinion, but if Australian football is able to achieve these five things then I truly believe it will become the most popular sport in this country, albeit in another 15-20 years.
1. Ensure the participation rate is growing
A study recently conducted in April showed that football is in fact the most popular sport in Australia with a total of 1.1 million people preferring the round ball. This is 4.5 per cent of the population, with the AFL not even in second place, as golf claims runners up.
If Football Federation Australia is able to identify improvements for the grassroots program (kids aged 5-9) such as importing better coaches from overseas and putting more money aside for local clubs around the community, the participation rate will only rise.
The Aboriginal community is full of talented athletes with huge potential. This is one area where the AFL has taken control over. They have provided programs which has resulted in 90,000 Aboriginal participants, making up 9 per cent of the AFL list.
Take Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti for example. His strength and exhilarating pace can only make you wonder how talented he would be playing football with the right skills and technique taught to him. If the FFA are able to address this area, it would be a big boost.
The inception of the W-League and the Matildas’ run at the 2015 women’s World cup has increased the participation rate for women’s football substantially. This is one big advantage football has over footy, because of the sport being safer than Aussie rules and in general just being a simple game to play.
From the start of this year, the AFL knew they had to act, which they did by beginning the inaugural WAFL season. Despite the big crowds for the first season, it will never be as successful as women’s football, for the reasons mentioned.
2. Get rid of the A-League salary cap
Ever since the departure of Alessandro Del Piero, I’ve always said that the salary cap in the A-League needs to go. In order for football to surpass AFL, it just simply has to go.
People will argue that without a salary cap ($2.6 million) the competitiveness will vanish and the weaker teams will end up in bankruptcy. This happened to North Queensland Fury and Gold Coast United, with not enough money at their disposal to properly function. This argument is true, but there are ways to operate which will not lead to those unfortunate scenarios.
Melbourne City have partnered with English club Manchester City in an attempt to grow the club which are currently second best to Melbourne Victory. The billionaire sheikhs at Manchester City have provided the Australian club with the necessary financial resources to compete.
This has shown through their facilities and the players being brought in such as Tim Cahill, Bruno Fornaroli and Aaron Mooy (who is now Australia’s most expensive ever transfer).
The MLS and CSL have dominated recently because of the money being thrown around to lure world-class players. David Beckham, Frank Lampard, Andrea Pirlo, Steven Gerrard, Carlos Tevez, Didier Drogba, Sebastian Giovinco to name a few.
The FFA need to get this ‘fair play’ out of their heads and enforce other clubs to implement what Melbourne City have done. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (28) playing in the Bundesliga is one of the best strikers in world football and is on the verge of completing a move to China, showing just how much money talks.
Take a moment to imagine how big it would be for this country to make a marquee signing such as the names mentioned above. 100,000 turned out for a friendly game between Liverpool and Melbourne Victory a couple of years ago containing Steven Gerrard. A signing like that would’ve increased crowd numbers and TV audiences without a doubt.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic (35). Iker Casillas (36). Fernando Torres (33). These are three world class names that are currently free agents. If the FFA would move faster in abolishing the salary cap, one of these signings could become a reality for the A-League.
3. Build more football stadiums and facilities which are not owned by other codes
In 2015, the AFL refused to swap a scheduled game between the Western Bulldogs and Fremantle in place of the A-League grand final. It was an absolute disgrace, and showed just how cautious the AFL is over football.
The match had to be moved to AAMI Park with a crowd of 30,000 people. Being at the game myself, the atmosphere is something I’ll never forget, but the spectacle missed out on an extra 25,000 fans entering the stadium.
Melbourne, Adelaide and Sydney need to build another stadium purely for football that would hold at least 50,000. The grounds at Etihad stadium, Adelaide Oval and Allianz stadium are in poor condition after matches played by the AFL and especially the NRL. The FFA needs to move away from this environment, and start investing in stadiums not affected by other codes.
Melbourne City have done well in providing multi million dollar facilities ($15 million) including training grounds, gyms, physio and coaching rooms, only owned by the club. A new vision which leads by a great example.
Even AAMI Park’s rectangular stadium isn’t just football based. It is home of the Melbourne Storm and the Melbourne Rebels which also doesn’t help the state of the pitch for A-League matches. Collingwood and Melbourne football clubs have been able to use the stadium’s training facilities, causing further annoyance among Melbourne fans.
4. A-League games and advertisements need to be broadcasted on free to air regularly
SBS’s decision to broadcast one A-League game a week was a huge step forward. With Fox Sports managing most of the TV rights, it’s hard for the FFA to strike deals with free-to-air television broadcasters.
Channel Nine has been broadcasting international Champions Cup games involving high profile clubs such as Real Madrid, Manchester City and Roma last year. The Brazil and Argentina friendly only last month was shown on the same channel.
It’s probably the FFA’s most likely chance of organising a deal with a free-to-air network. Going head to head with AFL games on a Saturday night would only grow the game.
Advertising the A-League has been a real disappointment ever since the beginning in 2005. Ads such as ‘you’ve got to have a team’ and ‘united’ have been very smart promotional campaigns. However, it doesn’t attract as many people such as the AFL, because it is not shown on a major free-to-air channel.
Sponsor billboards and outdoor advertising wouldn’t mean much of a financial sacrifice. TV ratings and crowd attendances would rise which will only enhance the overall support of football in Australia. Just thinking about it, its scary just how much this sport can grow by applying these little improvements.
5. Host a World Cup
People who think the Olympics is a bigger sporting event than the World cup are kidding themselves. That title belongs to football.
The unsuccessful bid for 2022 was a kick in the guts for all football supporters in Australia. Beaten by Qatar, it highlighted the reality that the FFA were falling behind other nations in terms of development and successful planning for the future.
The 2014 World cup in Brazil was able to attract 6.5 million tourists from across the world to watch the event. For us being able to potentially host such an event, it would improve our country’s culture, reputation and the way we see football.
Australia’s run at the ’06 World cup in Germany was incredible for Australian sport in general. There was a real buzz around places such as Federation Square and Sydney’s CBD creating excitement and a real vibe. You can only assume an even better atmosphere if the Aussies were to host one.
Recently the FFA announced they would submit a bid for the Matildas to host the 2023 women’s World Cup. It would attract massive crowd numbers and advertise the game to women over here.
The AFL is not invincible, and football has the potential to prove that and take over as Australia’s most popular sport. The FFA just needs to back themselves and improve on the factors mentioned above in order to take the next step. Football in this country has come too far to suddenly go backwards.
Football is the pinnacle for most countries around the world. Now its time for a change at the top in Australia.