Since the FFA Hall of Fame started in 1999, 245 people have had the honour of being inducted, from players to coaches to administrators to anyone that has made a significant contribution to Australian football.
As the men’s national football side limped its way through World Cup qualification and into Russia 2018 last week, it was the women’s team that was promoting pride in Australian football.
Move over the Socceroos; there’s a much better product in town.
While the Socceroos have struggled against the international minnows of the Middle East and Asia, the Matildas won the Tournament of Nations in August, in the process taking down powerhouses Brazil and the United States. This is the equivalent of the Socceroos defeating any European nation during next year’s World Cup – and despite the Aussie grit and determination shown to bypass Syria and Honduras, I don’t like their chances.
Back in Australia the Matildas twice more accounted for the Brazilians, led by champion Marta, in front of packed houses of 16,000 and 15,000 in Penrith and Newcastle.
But we shouldn’t be surprised. Women have been saving the embarrassments of Australia’s male athletes for decades. Just think: where would have Australia finished in the last few Olympic Games without the performances of our female swimmers and rowers? We would have been down in the depths of the medal tally we as a nation don’t know exist!
Yet despite women’s success on the international stage, the best way to sell women’s sport has traditionally been to sexualise it. Males control sporting bodies and therefore control women’s sport. You can’t tell me people watch lingerie football for the sporting element.
But now the Matildas have a product that can be sold to the world. It’s not 11 models in front of the camera anymore; their product is quality football, currently the best there is in the world.
The success of the Matildas and their subsequent exposure in 2017 has been unprecedented, and now it is time to bring this success all the way to the bank.
The first step for the Matildas would be to find a new primary sponsor. Westfield is part of the falling Lowy football empire, the Australian football dynasty that is on its knees as dissatisfied clubs and an impending FIFA intervention circle to bring widespread reform to the governance of Australian football.
Westfield’s sponsorship of the Matildas limits the exposure that the Australian women’s game can attract globally from their recent successes.
The Matildas are not playing in the same ballpark as the Socceroos. While the Socceroos’ relationships with Caltex and Qantas have helped both the team and brand dominate Asia, the Matildas have bigger fish to fry. Success against the USA and Brazil put them in the upper echelons of the women’s game, which must be capitalised on corporately.
As the Matildas fill AAMI Park and Kardinia Park this week against China, only Australians will recognise the Westfield signs and advertising surrounding the ground. Promoting the Matildas in a small and already overcrowded Australian football market doesn’t help the game, but if Qantas was the sponsor of the Matildas, such an internationally recognised company that would open new doors.
And then there’s the Samantha Kerr factor. You couldn’t have imagined such a perfect athlete to be the face of Australian football. One of the best players in the world, Kerr is young, supremely talented and the hottest property in the women’s game. While the Socceroos continue to struggle to find ways to score without the intervention of Tim Cahill’s ageless forehead, the Matildas have a goal-scoring machine. And if it’s not Kerr putting the ball in the back of the net, it’s one of Lisa De Vanna, Kyah Simon or Caitlin Foord.
Kerr and cricket and football superstar Ellyse Perry are the new faces of women’s sport. Perry has led the revolution in women’s cricket, where now the Big Bash League and women’s Ashes receives significant coverage and following from the media and public alike. Kerr can do the same for the Matildas and the W-League but on a global scale.
Football has the highest participation of any sport in Australia at the grassroots level. This does not, however, indicate the strength of the sport. Even though it has unquestioned support at lower levels, its code competitors in the AFL and NRL generate significantly higher crowds, television audiences and media noise during their offseason than the A-League. That is a serious worry.
There is now a global market for women’s sport, and it is something that the Matildas must capitalise on. If David Gallop and the other bigwigs at Football Federation Australia are serious about being bigger than the AFL and NRL, they must use their largest competitive advantage: international footprint.
To gain international acceptance and interest in Australia has a football nation the Matildas are our best shot.