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Out in the football world there is a belief among some folk that a second division with promotion and relegation will fix all our ills.
They think it is so easy to do and will have such an immediate impact its pure madness not to implement immediately.
Let me be clear from the outset. I want an independently run league, with a 16-team first division, a 16-team second division and promotion and relegation between them.
The elephant in the room is money and competition for ratings along with government and business influence. Australia’s sporting market is relatively small, in a world sense, and we have a society addicted to four different codes. This is unlike almost every other country.
This does not make us unique but it is certainly not inconsequential either. Money, players, media attention, political influence is spilt helter skelter across four professional codes. The dominant codes have a north-south divide and we can add a dash of ethnic division as well.
No code will sit by and watch other codes try and expand without reacting as it would see them become less profitable, less part of the sporting culture and represent a loss of vested interest.
We have many examples in recent years. When football started to get free space and to expand, suddenly cricket introduced the Big Bash, we had AFLX, AFL Women’s, rugby league’s Oceania Test series, netball, a re-jigged basketball season, and increase in the Spring Carnival in racing.
Does this mean we should not introduce a second division and promotion and relegation? No. What it does mean is we need to plan and not set overly ambitious targets, nor set impossible-to-achieve goals.
The mere introduction of promotion and relegation will not in and of itself get all the children to join hands and sing the football song. What it will do is get football people to invest in growing and developing lower level teams.
Will promotion and relegation unite the football world? This is also a mute question. There are some folk who will still only watch top European leagues. Will these folk jump on board because of promotion and relegation? I honestly don’t know, but they are likely not to.
Australia has today nine professional sides, with another 15 sides bidding to join the A-League. If we jump to 32 teams, 16 in each division it means effectively growing from 9 to 32 teams – an extra 23 teams. That’s a huge growth rate, 23 over nine as a percentage is 256 per cent increase.
Expansion without due diligence is asking for failure. What we need is create an unbiased system of team selection that sets criteria that will enable a period of financial support, spread Australia wide.
I think finding the 32 teams will not be hard and with some effort getting an Australia-wide presence is very achievable. Nor will it be difficult to find the backers as long as there is opportunity to become a Div 1 side.
What will be difficult is getting broadcasters on side.
Most difficult will be engaging with fans and convincing them to switch or start watching the A-League. This needs a change in social behaviour by tens if not hundreds of thousands of people and that is no easy task.
However it’s not doom and gloom. It fact is very achievable – especially if it is aligned with the esports launch, and astute marketing.
A second division and promotion and relegation is very possible, but by no means easy and will require a lot of work. It will take some time to gain acceptance by both the public and broadcasters.
So let’s open up the discussion, not should we introduce a second division, but how. We need to determine what is a realistic time frame.