We find ourselves with another season of the A-League upon us. But more than just a season, we find ourselves at a critical juncture in the game’s history. Years of poor governance and mismanagement set us upon a downward trajectory, but there is a glimmer of hope.
Make no mistake – the A-League and football is in trouble. Had they not been contractually obligated Foxtel would have sent the A-League packing, or at the very least significantly reduced its investment.
The loss of the Premier League, declining standards of football, poor management, no overall clear strategic cohesive objectives, a lack of fan engagement and respect plus a clear lack of excitement have more than halved TV ratings and sent them crashing to such a degree that it is no longer worth Foxtel’s while to broadcast.
And let us not even talk about the poorly managed FFA Cup, which generates as much talk in the general public as what choice of socks I chose to wear today.
Although official promotions have yet to start for the coming season there is nothing to suggest – apart perhaps from the Wanderers’ homecoming – that there will anything for fans to get excited about.
The horribly and generically named Western United will not have a home ground and we are on track to have two under performing teams in Melbourne in terms of crowds and interest – at least in the medium term. This is what you get when you allow media corporations to dictate the strategy of your game, and when it all falls apart they will leave the game in ruins and move onto the next best thing.
(Photo: Western United FC/Twitter)
We have an uneven league this season and both new teams were simply added as a cash grab by an ailing and desperate FFA who has badly managed our game. The youth system is broken and they even managed to take our one feel good story – the Matildas – and ruin that.
The FFA and many clubs have suffocated a once vibrant active support that set us apart and drew new fans. We are not only not attracting new fans but are now losing the rusted on ones that we still have.
Sounds pretty gloomy, right? Well there is still hope. The TV deal doesn’t run out until 2023 and club owners are now in control – of the A-League at least. Yes, this brings about concerns about the health of the broader game and whether it will be neglected but lets face it, this is the best chance we have. This is the owners money at stake and they will seek to maximise their investment.
So what needs to be done? Well its a combination of short, medium and long term goals. Here are a few initiatives.
The game needs an instant shot in the arm to generate interest, so get a genuine marquee who will put bums on seats. If you want a return, you need to invest, so advertising is an important factor. They also need to support Western United and Macarthur FC. Yes, their inclusion was for the wrong reasons but now that they are in you need to give them every chance of success.
Engage your fans by creating a family environment which treats them like fans and not dollar signs, as well as embracing the game’s history. We play into other codes’ narrative that ‘soccer’ is a foreign game. We have been here for over 140 years. Football didn’t begin with the A-League – it didn’t even begin with the NSL. Promote our history so we can create a legacy.
Start working towards clubs owning their own stadiums. It’s long overdue but this generates revenue streams and it can be done with a ten year plan. Stop making the A-League dependant on the success of the Socceroos. Let the A-League be its own entity and its fortunes rise independent of the Socceroos. Create local heroes – just look at the MLS, which is going from strength to strength irrespective of the national team.
(Photo by Francois Nel/Getty Images)
Engage former overseas stars. They have a wealth of knowledge and have been frozen out by – let’s be honest – often less than competent individuals. A review and fixing of the top to bottom youth development system is also necessary. The current 4-3-3 doesn’t work. It doesn’t teach kids to play in diverse systems nor emphasises defence and how to tackle. Create strong links from A-League clubs down to juniors and utilise existing – though neglected – sporting infrastructure.
Your Marconi’s, Sydney United and Melbourne Knights who were a production line for talent need to be engaged and incentivised. Look at France, Spain and even Japan – countries that lead the world in good practice and youth development or were in a similar situation to us to improve not only youth development but coaching too.
The A-League should consider creating a second division – but only when we can afford to do so. Yes we need one, but the poor management of the game means we are far from being able to do this.
Engage sponsors not as a second rate code or a Big Bash wannabe, but as football – a game that leads and drives change, and as the world’s game that is the international shop window for Australia and paths into Asia and other major markets. Establish a powerful lobby group.
We are at a cross roads. Thankfully though we have a chance to turn the game around. Clubs have already incurred substantial losses, but we now have a structure in place in which we have the opportunity to steer the ships off the rocks and finally begin to realise our true potential.
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