The Roar
The Roar

Advertisement

Opinion

To revive the A-League look to the NBL, Deadpool and cycling

Autoplay in... 6 (Cancel)
Up Next No more videos! Playlist is empty -
Replay
Cancel
Next
Roar Guru
6th October, 2022
31

Trying to improve interest in the A-League (specifically the Men) is an incredibly treacherous exercise.

Supporters are generally are not happy with various parts of the A-League experience, from broadcasting, to the quality of players and the game, the match day experience, to development pathways. Unfortunately, at times it appears an easier task to identify what the A-League is doing well, compared to what are the areas for improvement.

One idea to improve the A-League is to create a National Second Division. Generally, the concept of creating more content to watch would lead to more interest in the game. My view is best summed up in the old adage: if a goal is scored in a National Second Division game, but no one is watching, was the goal even scored?

Conceptually, having a promotion/relegation system would create more interest in the product, but at the current time the costs of creating a second division will far outweigh the benefits.

To look at the evidence, the creation of Western United and Macarthur have arguably hurt the product, by trying in vain to attain a derby-fest in Sydney and Melbourne – so why would adding at least eight new teams (noting these teams are likely to have older histories and stronger supporter bases than the A-League teams) provide a significant boost?

Patrick Antelmi of Sydney United 58 FC celebrates scoring a goal.

Patrick Antelmi of Sydney United 58 FC celebrates scoring a goal. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

Football in Australia has always had a Euro-centric focus. The simplest generalisation for this, (if you take out the fact that Australia’s migration policy historically has been Euro-centric), is that it has the best players and best teams.

European soccer teams have turned into global brands. The A-League has tried to, by association, cash in on this by getting big European clubs to come to Australia and play pre-season friendlies. This can lead to big crowds and eyes watching on TV, but sadly it does not translate to A-League interest come the regular season.

Advertisement

Sadly, the Asian Champions League has limited appeal to average Australians. Only the keenest of football fan is passionately interested in a group match against a J-League opponent.

Generally, if you ask the average Australian what football team they support, it generally leads to a response of a team in England, then potentially a team in Serie A or La Liga, or a specific super team like Bayern Munich. A rare response is for someone to say they support an A-League team.

Australian fans want to see the best players in the world, and those players do not reside in the A-League. Yes, the A-League can attract ageing superstars, but it is ludicrous to think that the A-League could attract players closer to their prime like the MLS or Chinese Super League do.

We simply do not have the money, or the other benefits that the US market brings.

Despite this, there is one thing that Australians have an even stronger pull for: watching Australian players succeed and play in or against the top players and teams. The golden generation had this with Harry Kewell, Mark Viduka, Marco Bresciano, Vince Grella, Mark Schwarzer, Scott Chipperfield, Brett Emerton, Lucas Neill and even Craig Moore playing against the top teams in Europe, including the Champions League.

Mark Viduka in a contest with Josip Simunic

(Photo credit MICHAEL URBAN/AFP via Getty Images)

To compare, Australia has established this in the NBA, with Australia going through a similar golden generation. Andrew Bogut led to the likes of Matthew Dellavedova, Aron Baynes, Patty Mills and Joe Ingles, which has led to many Australians being drafted in the top 10 of the NBA draft – Dante Exum, Maker, Ben Simmons, Josh Giddey and Dyson Daniels.

Advertisement

This has led to the Boomers winning their first-ever medal at the Olympics.

Before this golden generation had hit its stride, the NBL was in an even more perilous state than the A-League. However, as more Australians made it to the NBA, the NBL saw a rejuvenation, as Australians wanted to catch a glimpse of the next Australian going to make it to the best league in the world.

In addition, the NBL did well in finding a niche through its Next Stars program, which included bringing down 2021 NBA Rookie of the Year LaMelo Ball to Illawarra.

Unfortunately, the A-League is unlikely to get any traction with a future stars program, but like basketball it can focus its energy and effort in trying to get Australians playing in the big leagues and big clubs in Europe, which is no simple task in the global game.

The problem is that Australia has struggled to maintain confidence in the global market that our players and coaches warrant a spot on the biggest stages.

So, how do we do this? How do we change this perception?

Australia could look at the Deadpool model – buy an English lower division team with the aim of getting promoted. This is what Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney have done with Welsh National League side Wrexham. They have also turned it into a TV series with Welcome to Wrexham.

Advertisement

From this aspect, the good thing about the English lower divisions (from League 1 downwards), is that there are regularly teams in financial turmoil that are seeking strong financial backers who can bring stability.

What I am proposing is that the APL seek financial backing to take over an English lower division side. It is my understanding that due to the homegrown player rules, 17 of a maximum of 25 players could be Australian in an English side (or potentially more if they are in England for three years prior to the age of 21 and then classed as a homegrown player).

This way, Australia could use this as a pathway to showcase Australian talent (both players and coaches). It is entirely plausible that if Australia invested in such a model that the team could make it to the Championship level. That way, they will be playing against major English clubs and could play serious matches such as FA or League Cup.

Doing so would provide a clear platform for A-League players to Europe (where they can then spread their wings and find other clubs). It would also build interest in the A-League for two reasons: Australians will be able to see their future stars before they jettison off to Europe, and it will showcase that the A-League is a serious league and bring interest from higher quality players to play down here.

Finding financial backers would be plausible, following in the Deadpool model and the fact that we would be selling a uniquely Australian product. Plus, Australia still has a large amount of migrants and travellers going to Britain, which if the right club was found, would help attract an Australian supporter base to the club.

Sports opinion delivered daily 

   

If the aim was European club competitions, taking this model to Scotland could also work. Australia already has a large contingent in Scotland and with Ange Postecoglou as coach of Celtic.

Advertisement

It appears that the Scottish leagues have even more lax restrictions on foreign players than England does, so potentially even more Australians could play in a side together. It would be a reasonable target that such a side would make European football, though potentially not the Champions League with Rangers and Celtic the two dominant forces.

Cycling has done a broadly similar model by creating an Australian professional road race cycling team with Team BikeExchange-Jayco (formerly known as GreenEdge Cycling). The team has financial backing from Jayco Australia businessman, Gerry Ryan. The aim of this team, despite winning, is seemingly to showcase Australian racing talent to the world, and they are succeeding in their quest.

Doing this is not a short-term strategy, but it could reap significant dividends, for Australian football and the A-League into the future. If Australia could not find financial backing it could look to partnership models with teams – this could have potential as teams look to solidify their finances, in return for supporting Australian talent development.

And that is how the unlikely triumvirate of the NBL, Deadpool and cycling could revive the A-League.

close