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Show us the bottom line! Football fans deserve to know the state of the APL's finances and the leagues they support

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Expert
7th May, 2024
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On the eve of the men’s semi-finals and after the culmination of the women’s season last Saturday afternoon, interest in the A-Leagues and the quality product that has been on show in season 2023/24 is at fever pitch.

It is that pleasing reality and the Australian Professional League’s rumoured financial problems that demand the fans know the absolute truth in regards to where football at the highest level in Australia currently stands.

The passion shown and energy expelled by fans of the A-Leagues cannot be expected and relied upon blindly, without the body that now governs the competitions coming out and explaining precisely where they stand financially, especially given some of the challenges that have been faced over the last 12 months.

Since the return to pitches during the COVID-19 pandemic, the opportunities presented to young domestic footballers in both leagues have seen a remarkable awakening to the depth of local talent available.

That necessity made for some incredible football and a host of young names being granted minutes locally and subsequently abroad. The associated realisation was that the number of foreigners traditionally brought into the leagues might actually have been producing a negative rather than positive effect on the talent being developed at home.

To round out season 2023/24, AFC Cup winners Central Coast Mariners will attempt to ride their current wave of success even further back on home shores and eliminate Sydney FC before claiming a second consecutive title.

Wellington Phoenix seeks the first-ever A-League success of a non-Australian team and needs to get past Melbourne Victory over the next fortnight in order to do so.

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Yet in the background, a series of concerning events build a serious platform that A-League fans could use to demand some definitive answers in terms of exactly where the competition they embrace is heading in the short-term future.

Dylan Pierias of the Wanderers celebrates a goal with fans. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

The embarrassing situation that saw broadcast partner Global Advance enter administration in March was unexpected and alarming in isolation. Whilst certainly not entirely a reflection of APL and its financial position, the simple fact that a corporate partner was not receiving the benefit it hoped to from the leagues was concerning.

Off the back of former APL boss Danny Townsend’s decision to sell off A-League grand finals to NSW tourism, and all the absolute rhetorical nonsense used to justify it, the broadcast insecurity looked a little fishy.

Since then, the decision to shelve the Warren/Dolan Awards has brought much outrage and query. Many wonder whether a presentation of the game’s best male and female players during half-time of grand finals is anywhere near fitting.

The spin produced by APL and the claim that such a move would “bring the awards closer to fans” now appears almost certain to have been nothing but a smokescreen attempting to hide the fact that the APL coffers are near running on empty.

With fresh news that Network 10 is in serious trouble and engaged in rather tense talks with its US-based parent company, where the A-League’s stand in terms of the ongoing agreements with the network and Paramount+ is anyone’s guess at best and precarious at worst.

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The rise of streaming and the dwindling total advertising spend in Australian commercial networks has many seeing a shrinking of the market to a situation where only one or perhaps two networks remain in the fallout.

Ten appears to be in the least advantageous position compared to Seven and Nine and with Australian football having tied itself to them, APL could well be feeling somewhat compromised in terms of knowing exactly where the game will be broadcast in the medium-term future.

With rumours now circulating that APL is about to announce a significant slash in funding to clubs for season 2024/25, fans like you and me are more than entitled to ask for a rudimentary print-out of the state of play and exactly where the money is, has gone and is coming from.

Should the rumours prove to be true and the central distribution fund be unable to feed the same amount to the clubs next season, the salary cap could be significantly compromised and the clubs could be placed under increasing financial strain.

Newcastle Jets are reportedly moments away from new ownership and there is some potential light in that announcement for the clubs forced to financially support what has looked a dying carcass at times.

However, even an invigorated Jets will not provide the cash injection that the Silver Lake money was meant to provide; cash that Townsend and co. claimed would have long-term beneficial impacts on the top-tier domestic leagues.

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The A-Leagues will be back next season, but it would be nice to know exactly how the APL is administering the competitions and whether there might in fact be a better way to do so.

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At the moment, all is in secrecy and card-carrying A-League members and fans deserve better than that.

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