According to the rhetoric the National Premier Leagues are the new era of Football in Australia, it will take the game to a new level. So many cliches but very little to support the words as they float away on the wind.
The truth is the competition in each state has simply been give a new name, a unified name. A name to satisfy a requirement for a second tier competition “underpinning the A-League.” It is rather an intriguing word choice as if you look up “underpinning” in the dictionary it states two definitions which the administrators continually try and ignore; “Foundation for something” and “supporting structure.”
For over one hundred years the state league clubs in the main thanks to, and not as many would want you to believe, their ethnic roots have kept the game alive in Australia. It has been these clubs who have supplied the next generation of A-League stars, not the A-League clubs who have against their will been forced to invest in a youth team.
It is great news that these clubs who have been manned by hundreds of people over the years who have given hours of their time for free to keep the game and their club alive, finally have a competition that makes all that hard work worthwhile; yes there have been at every club people who have put themselves ahead of the club, but if you look around in most cases they have gone and the club remains.
The sad thing is the NPL is not all that it should be and those people cannot rest easy knowing the future is bright. There is little or no investment from the FFA or Football West to make those clubs involved feel that they are part of a ‘new dawn,’ of something the like of which we have never seen. There has been no financial carrot for teams to strive to win that inaugural NPL title, just a play off place against a South Australian team due to cost restrictions and if they win that the possibility of taking on the big boys from the big cities on the East.
What about the promotion of this great new era? There has been next to nothing, a web based video and a breakfast shown and seen by those who have already bought into the idea and the concept that this re-branding will in fact carry the game forward.
There has been talk that the new NPL will attract bigger crowds than the old State League, yet how will that be so when nothing is spent on promotion? The West Australian newspaper carried a picture from the launch breakfast, but how much space will the game garner on a match day for previewing the fixtures and how much on a Monday reviewing the games?
Many will say what little chance does a state competition have when the Perth Glory struggles for coverage. Others will say its only a state competition so doesn’t warrant coverage, yet the WAFL will have sometimes four pages in the paper and that is a state competition. The difference is Australian Rules Football pays or has paid in the past for some of that space in the paper to ensure that they get the coverage they feel their teams and their sport needs to attract high profile sponsors. The WAFL crowds are not much better than some of the better State League football crowds yet they garner more coverage because they have invested in it. The perception then is that the game is thriving and killing other state competitions.
As Perth Glory are struggling for stories in the paper, and as a part of the NPL, a league that they have stated they believe their future relies upon, why have they not combined with Football West and bought newspaper space in order to promote their club and the league that they believe is so vital to bring through the next generation of players? We are constantly told that the relationship between the two is the best it has ever been, so why not a collaborative approach to gain the sport more publicity?
Sadly it all comes down to cost. Neither organisation wants to invest in something as intangible as publicity, so both fall back, like so many organisations on social media. The thing is to make social media work for you, as those who use it successfully will tell you, you have to spend money. Simply posting messages to your Twitter followers and your Facebook friends is almost pointless. For these people have opted to “follow” you and “Like” you so they probably already now what time you are playing, against whom, where and when. They are already committed to the game.
The NPL is a good concept. It has the potential to raise the profile of the game as a whole across the country, but with no marketing plan and no media strategy to pull people through the gates it will struggle. It will die if this responsibility is left solely at the feet of the clubs, as they simply do not have the resources available. With the right plan and the game’s administrators “underpinning” the League in its infancy, they may grow to a position whereby they can take over that role, but not at the start.
Finally the sad fact is that even if the standard of the football improves dramatically, thanks to the coaches that have been given a piece of paper to say that they understand the philosophy of football, it will take a while for the crowds to come, as how will they know that the game has improved? The only way will be via word of mouth.
It is time for less talk and time for actions to speak louder than words. No doubt the clubs, the coaches and the players are about to give their all to the NPL. So too should the administrators across the country promoting and gaining the league publicity. As without out this investment all of the pain to get to this stage will have been for nought, and that would be a great shame.