To create a second division with promotion and relegation to follow in Australia, we first need to develop respect for Australian professional football. This is why.
First let’s look at Australia’s football pyramid to see where we lack respect.
Volunteers – coaches, managers, local park committee members – have respect.
Parents who bring their children to training and matches have respect.
Players, mostly respected.
Local park teams, hugely respected. Regional associations, mostly respected.
National teams are hugely respected, with the Matildas without doubt the leading female national team and arguably Australia’s number three team across male and female sports (behind the Socceroos and the men’s cricket team).
Australian professional football has little respect, because of the perception of quality and management structures.
SBS is the perfect example of this. They provide heaps of praise for juniors, global football and our national teams. Nevertheless, they are always negative about local professional football. The NSL also received lots of negative criticism from SBS when it represented the professional game in this country.
There is little respect for professional football from governments, in particular. Various governments build mega stadiums and pour money into other codes that football can only dream about.
There is little to no respect from the mainstream media for Australian professional football.
To gain respect, generally you also have to give respect. You can’t demand respect – you need to command respect. In my lifetime, Australian professional football has never given respect to lower levels. In fact, the degree of mistrust between many of the NSL teams and regional associations was very intense.
Until the greater football community respects Australian professional football, then nothing much will change.
Some people argue promotion and relegation is the answer. Before promotion and relegation can work, we need to have the respect of existing football fans, the player base and volunteers. Promotion and relegation will be a large part of the solution over time but until Australian professional football has respect, the effect will be marginal.
Far greater minds than mine have answers to issues pertaining to Australian professional football. These issues have been around since the late 1940s.
The player base, volunteers, parents and Eurosnobs are a big number with a low conversation rate of eyeballs to screens. The quality combined with traditional viewing patterns prevent eyeballs to screens.
A more positive media would help, but more is needed.
Having served on my local park team committee for a number of years and knowing the influence committees can have on the various stakeholders in their club, what’s needed is for Australian professional football to respect the park teams and their stakeholders.
I have two ideas. The first is to provide local park teams the ability to sell tickets to A-League matches with a ten per cent discount shared between the club and person buying the ticket. This would provide park team committees with an incentive to promote the A-League.
The second is to offer each park team within a reasonable reach of an A-League stadium free tickets for committee members. Say there are 400 teams with five tickets each, that’s 2000 tickets. Sit them all together so the A-League club can talk to their park team committees.
The costs of these two things will be more than covered in increased crowds and should have a very positive effect on eyeballs to screens.
For the A-League to reach its potential, it needs respect from football’s broader base. To earn respect, Australian professional football needs to develop relationships with its broader base and this can be done via regional associations and their park teams.