Football in Australia has many levels, including grassroots park teams, state associations, many semi-professional teams, and two professional competitions in the A-League and W-League.
The professional structure is light years away from perfect. The W-League’s short season and poor pay is only one of many issues.
For the sake of clarity, let me identify what would satisfy most fans. Let’s say we want two divisions of 16 teams with promotion and relegation between the divisions, and eventually promotion and relegation into the second divisions, across both men’s and women’s competitions.
If the above is the perfect, we are light years away from achieving this.
The belief by some is that without this system or something similar, we can never be a true football nation nor can they support Australian professional football.
Others argue that we need to maybe cut back from where we are to share scarce revenue to fewer teams to enable a better quality of player to play in the league.
There are more alternatives. The biggest question or issue is how to stabilise Australian professional football with each team having decent revenue with reasonable crowds, sponsors and an adequate broadcast partner to grow the game.
Can we do one without the other?
The answer is no. We can’t stabilise and grow professional football without recognising the aspirations of what many people want: as close as possible to a European football model.
Unless we evolve to a European football model, it appears uniting the broader football community – especially opinion makers – will be near impossible. Without unity, growing football is near impossible.
However, the business world and the money in other football leagues means Australian professional football needs revenue and broadcast partners that can sustain and grow the game.
Within the Australian context the revenue needed to run and pay for the 32 teams in two divisions – both male and female – is a fraction of what is needed.
The question then becomes what do we do to get the 32-team, two-division model? Do we accept, as a football community, accept a transition period? If so, for how long, and in what form?
New broadcast arrangements are in progress and let’s assume the result will be something along the lines of more of the same. Essentially it is a similar structure to what we currently have.
My gut tells me we need to change and transition to a full FIFA model, but we cannot get there overnight.
If we get a decent broadcast partner and reasonable revenue, given our current ratings and crowds, that is good.
From this we need to demand a mud map of sorts to move forward.
Do we then get behind professional Australian football, or do we say it’s not perfect so we attack constantly and remain divided?
Does being perfect mean we can’t support the good? Does wanting perfect mean anything less will not do?