Stand Alone A-League Will Be A Game Changer

We have all read about the delegation from FIFA and the AFC arriving in Australia this week as part of a fact-finding mission to look at instigating changes to FFA’s constitution.

The ulterior motive is believed to be to have the A-League taken from the FFA’s clutches, and like in most countries in the world be run as a stand alone competition. It is no secret that the AFC wanted to achieve this goal in the Asian Confederation by 2017. This was then pushed back to 2019.

The A-League owners are all in favour of such a move, and as successful businessmen they are bound to be. As was revealed by Bonita Mersiades on the Football Toady website the FFA have allowed businessmen with strong ties in the AFC and FIFA to take over A-League clubs, and as a result so great is the pressure on such a separation, that it has become almost inevitable.

There has been a great deal of press coverage given to the argument that the FFA cannot afford such a deal to happen until the next television deal has been put to bed, as to seperate the A-League from the Socceroos would diminish the possible financial return they are expecting. Which could result in jobs being lost at head office.

There are many who already believe what the FFA are hoping to achieve from this deal is unrealistic. The A-League viewing figures last year did not make good reading. The competition itself despite being wide open in terms of many teams able to beat each other, has started to become stale amongst many fans, who are tired of playing the same team three times a season. As for the Mariners last season they were on par with the Football Kingz in the last season of the NSL; and the Kingz managed to win 4 of their 24 games, while the Mariners won 3 from 27.

In fact it would appear that the FFA has put all of its eggs in one basket in terms of securing the future of the game financially. Whereas Soccer Australia would gamble every four years on the Socceroos qualifying for the World Cup, the FFA now gamble on the television rights being their golden egg.

There are some who believe that Football could be stronger in Australia if the Socceroos and the Matildas rights were separated from the A-League. This would potentially give the game a greater exposure to the nation. It would also make it very clear that there are two very different brands in the market.

Such a move would also prevent the current crossover sponsorship, whereby a sponsor of the A-League is given exposure surrounding the Socceroos, or a national team sponsor given exposure to A-League followers, at minimum extra cost. Suddenly if you want to be a part of football, and want exposure with both products you will have to pay twice. Or another way of looking at it, suddenly the game can attract twice the sponsors it currently has.

The FFA must have known that this day had to come at some stage, it may not be coming when they wanted, but hopefully David Gallop and the Board have had a contingency plan in place, and already know which staff positions will need to be culled.

The A-League has a great deal of potential if the clubs’ owners bring in the right people to run the league. If they simply implant “mates” it will almost certainly go the way of the old NSL. They need to show the FFA that if you put football people in charge, people who know how the game works and how it is run, and what fans want it has the chance to flourish. The A-League needs such a person, and one without an ego, who quietly goes about his work and is only seen when required.

The FFA installed a man steeped in Rugby Union to head the A-League in its infancy, Matt Carroll. A man who was a tireless worker and loyal servant to the CEO John O’Neill, who took a great deal of credit for Carroll’s endeavours. After Carroll came the only man with a real football knowledge, Archie Fraser, who had played professionally in Scotland and moved to Australia to play. Fraser however did not last long, just over a year.

He was replaced by Lyle Gorman who had been the founding CEO of the Central Coast Mariners and then Executive Chairman. He came to the role with 30 years of experience in senior management, project management and administration in both the Public and Private sectors. Despite what he achieved in the role Gorman’s time will always be tarnished by the fact that he failed to see a conflict of interest in keeping a share in the Mariners while holding such a position. Suddenly football started to look like it was going full circle.

When Gorman left to head up the FFA-owned Western Sydney Wanderers he was replaced by a man from cricket. Damien de Bohun had previously been game and market development for Cricket Australia. After four years in the role it is believed the frustration and lack of funds were the reason de Bohun moved on. His replacement Greg O’Rourke was appointed in July this year and was introduced by the FFA as coming into the role “after five years as Operations Director for multinational snacks foods and beverages company PepsiCo Australia and New Zealand. He has been a senior executive for 20 years in the global FMCG and branded consumer product industries, with experience in finance, operations, logistics, strategic planning and people leadership.” Very few of the appointees have a background in the game.

If the A-League really wants to make that next step forward, and if it gets to be a stand-alone league it is imperative that it employs as its head someone from a football background, who knows how television deals work and how the game needs to be marketed. They will hopefully then be able to tap into the current stay-away fans and can help the clubs attract fans, in a uniformed approach.

If the A-League does break away from the FFA, where does that leave the other leagues around the country? Will teams from the NPL, which was set up to be a quasi second tier to the A-League to satisfy the AFC make up a second division competition? If so how will they decide which teams are in the league? Will this fall to the new management of the A-League?

One would suspect that clubs would have to apply to be a part of a new second tier competition and a criteria would have to bet met. If that is the case, where would that leave the NPL in each state?

Would the A-League breaking away set a precedent that league competitions in individual states could break away from their state bodies and run themselves? Certainly in New South Wales and Victoria, with the standard of football on display, a strong marketing strategy could lift their competitions to another level, so it could be a realistic option.

The meeting this week could well be the turning point for football in Australia. It could also see the FFA lose some of its iron clad grip on the game. That may not be a bad thing, the game may actually be allowed to breathe on its own again.

Stand Alone A-League Will Be A Game Changer
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