Can football in Australia be saved at a professional level?
For the first time I am starting to wonder if the infighting that has been almost constant in professional football in Australia has reached a point where the sport can no longer reach its potential.
The first thing to do is acknowledge we have major problems. The second is to list them in broad categories.
Acknowledge football’s position in both Australia and the Australian sporting environment
This is not the ‘we are unique argument’; it’s simply a statement of fact. In Australia there are more than 120 professional teams across seven other major all chasing media deals and sponsorships, including the AFL, rugby league, rugby union, netball, basketball, cricket and motorsport.
Most of these codes have an international aspect of competition, with a number having decent international tournaments. Further, all these sports are broadcast across a number of platforms.
Acknowledge the current format of 12 clubs, no second division and no promotion and relegation needs to change
Football needs to use its global systems and models to within a reasonable time frame develop:
Football two huge advantages, which are the size of the player base and being the most global game.
Acknowledge and accept the size of the Australian sport-watching numbers
If you added the free-to-air ratings for the AFL, NRL, Supercars, A-League, NBL, Super Netball with the Fox Sports ratings for Super Rugby and other sports, I would guess the figure would be up to 2.5 million viewers. Grand finals, key internationals and the AFL and NRL grand finals would attract up to 4.25 million.
Realistically I would guess week-to-week sport in Australia comprises around three million people with up to eight million for key events.
Listen to each other with the understanding most want what’s best for football
There are many people with different opinions, and we need to listen to what they have to say. Sometimes we need to trust people who have the data and infor4mation rather than simply dismissing them as wrong because their conclusion differs from what we believe is true.
We must certainly demand proof, but don’t yell and scream because it’s a conclusion you don’t agree with.
Take control of the conversation
The sport has wasted years with political manoeuvering, so much so that it lost control of the conversation about how to develop the game. Civil wars never have winners. Both sides are always greatly weakened. Football is no different.
Decades of infighting and mini revolutions have brought us to where we are today. Where we have a number of key power players, State Feds, Former NSL clubs, PFA, SBS [the only broadcaster we have so we only get from the mainstream the SBS view which IMO has restricted media reporting], A-League clubs, some of the larger associations.
Arguably 70 years of negative reporting with a couple of brief periods when reporting was mostly positive.
For me, we need to unite, support what we have, and develop it within a framework of where we want to go.
We need to acknowledge there is a limit on what percentage of the population will watch week to week sport and also major events. Moreover, acknowledge other codes have huge followings.
We do have a choice; we can work towards developing systems and structures leading towards my 32-team, two-division league, with promotion and relegation. Or we can challenge every single decision and insist on perfection from yesterday as we see it.
The kicker in all this is money, both from the competition revenues and from investors. Both need ratings and the key to rating is unity and connecting to the player base.
If we continue as we have for decades now of disunity – We are doomed to stay where we are.