Tag Archives: A-League

Possible SBS abandonment of soccer another sign of not being ‘Special’ anymore

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An article in FourFourTwo Australia has spelled out that the A-League has been a rating disaster for SBS.

Kevin Perry, Co-Editor of the website DeciderTV and an expert on New Media & Sport, says the A-League has been a “disaster” for SBS and doubts the broadcaster will enter into any bidding war for the A-League and Socceroos broadcast rights.

“The A-League has not been a rating success,” Perry said.

“The A-League has been a disaster for SBS and they are very keen to dump the rights as quickly as they could. They tried to get rid of the rights of the A-League in these past 12 months and they couldn’t find anyone to buy it off them.”

As the article goes on to say SBS was once known as the spiritual home of football after a 35-year history of broadcasting football. In my opinion it was the advent of SBS who advanced the cause of the sport in Australia. Not only it broadcast the NSL, but I think it was the decision to broadcast the World Cup live that made many australians realise what a huge event it was. If my memory doesn’t fail me, Johnny Warren said that the broadcast of the Japan/Korea World Cup in 2002 (which for Australia was finallly at an accessible time zone) that allowed more to see it, including some influential people in governemt which asked why Australia wasn’t there (remember that this was the first world cup after the very sucessful Sydney Olympics). And apparently this was one element that started the rolling of the process to reform football in Australia that resulted in the Crawford Report.

In fact SBS was so much in the sport that it was dubbed ‘Soccer Bloody Soccer’ by some (the fact that Channel 7 wasn’t dubbed ‘Football Bloody Football’ escaped them). The person that perhaps was most instrumental in making sure that SBS was the ‘football channel’, Les Murray bemoans the state of affairs.

Les Murray who hosted SBS football for 34 years and retired last year said that he would be saddened if the multicultural broadcaster decided not to broadcast football.

“If SBS was to dump football after building its market from a few thousand to millions over 35 years that would be a great shame,” Murray said.

“I’d be very disappointed in that I hope that is not true, I hope that is not the case. I still believe SBS does a great job in covering the game. It treats the game with total respect, it treats the football audience with intellectual respect, and it’s analysis of football is of the highest quality, so I think it still does a good job.

“Bear in mind that when it comes to ratings its ratings are not governed by what channel something is on. It’s governed by the content. Football ratings are ultimately driven by the quality of the football not the quality of the presenters or the commentators. If the football quality is good then it will rate whether it’s on SBS or whether it’s not on SBS.”

The problem here is the term ‘multicultural broadcaster’. SBS hasn’t been so for some time. Look at most of the programs shown on SBS and they have really little ‘multicultural’ about them. I remember when SBS stated in the 1980’s most programs were not in English and subtitled and noe the reverse is the case. Look at any evening schedule. You have Insight, Who do you think you are, Underground Britain, 24 hours in Emergency, Fargo. Then you have the movie ‘Kill Bill 2’. I am not saying that I don’t love these programs, I do. But I think they target the English-Speaking inner suburban-tertiary educated viewer that anything multicultural. The elimination of football would continue this trend.

Perhaps we can’t blame SBS management too much. When SBS was instituted in the 80’s it was an echo from a different Australia. When governments were there to provide services, even to minorities. Now evertything has to be justified, and if something doesn’t rate it doesn’t bring the money in. As the article in FourFourTwo states:

After poor ratings on SBS One last year the live Friday night game was relegated back to SBS Two.

Perry said: “SBS has a funding crisis at the moment. The Government have cut their budget. They have a four-year deal but it’s just worked out horribly for them.

“The ratings have been terrible. The Friday night games, has been a problem because the FFA haven’t really scheduled the best matches for a Friday night.

“A lot of the best matches have been on a Saturday night. It hasn’t worked out for SBS at all and they just want to get away from football – they just don’t have the money.”

In the old days SBS would have seen the provision of football as a service to the communities, whether it rated ot not. This is no longer the case.

But perhaps what’s happening at SBS echoes what has happened in Australian football as well. As football was ‘de-ethicised’ with the advent of the A-League, SBS has been as well. You can sense watching SBS broacasting the NSL back in 1988 that it was seen also as a community service. A service to the communities that were running those clubs.

Whatever happens in the future the danger of the bad ratings is that once the next round of TV rights goes around there may not be takers for the A-League, or the money may not be sufficient to grow the League. And despite soccerphobes and those who still resent the advent of the A-League may rejoice it would be bad for the sport of football in Australia as a whole.

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Crisis, Danger and Opportunity in the A-League

 

 

Mandarin characters of Danger and Opportunity do not mean Crisis. But nevertheless it does give a point for discussion.

I have had the dubious distinction of being retrenched twice in my working life.  The first time was as a public servant under the Jeff Kennett regime when sways? Of public servants were being made redundant.

At least, probably to give the impression that ‘they cared’, they engaged a private ‘work transition consultant’ which basically meant someone that showed you how to write a good CV, enhance your prospects at an interview and so on.  Part of this was also a bit of a pep talk where they gave us a spiel about ‘seeing this as an opportunity’ to maybe take your life in new directions you always wanted etc. Yes, while the mortgage repayments loomed.

Anyway, most of us were understandingly pissed off, and not very receptive to any spin that losing our job was a new wonderful opening.  Matters were not made better when our trainer opened his talk saying that losing one’s employment was a ‘crisis’ but then stating that old chestnut that in Mandarin, the character for crisis was ‘danger’ and ‘opportunity’. Christ, here we were, some well into middle age, fearing if we were ever going to get another  job and this guy was spouting pop psychology straight out from an inspirational poster  (not only that, but a bit of research would have found that the word crisis in Mandarin is not a combination of crisis and opportunity).

Fortunately my work life turned out for the better. But even if the Mandarin character for crisis does not encompass danger and opportunity, it is still an interesting juxtaposition.  And I was reminded of this with all what’s happening in the A League at the moment.  There is no denying that the competition is in crisis.  Gold Coast gone, plus the Newcastle Tinkler dispute etc. Added to this the decision by the FFA to get a team in Western Sydney. Which is a good move, but many fear it is too rushed and in an area which is considered somewhat of a ‘holy grail’ of Association Football in Australia and therefore fatal to the competition if it fails.

So there is plenty of danger. But with this also come opportunity.  If, and I say if, the FFA takes on board the criticism levelled at them by the owners, start to consult with them and perhaps changes the model on which the A-League is being run and the A-League goes through this rough patch, it could actually come out stronger on the other side.

As Slater has said, it seems that with Western Sydney perhaps the FFA has learned that it  needs to get the community first, and that creating a club and then saying to fans: ‘here it is, now follow it and be grateful’ doesn’t really work.

Creating a new competition is not easy.  Many places the AFL as an example of stability and a well run organisation, and that is true, but they had a 127 year start comparing to the A League.  Let’s read the Wikipedia entry on the history of the VFA.

Foundation Senior clubs of the VFA were Albert Park, Carlton, East Melbourne, Essendon, Hotham, Melbourne, St. Kilda & Geelong. The Junior section of the VFA originally included such clubs as Ballarat, Hawthorn, Northcote, South Melbourne, Standard, Victoria United, Victorian Railways and Williamstown. During its early years, many clubs dropped in and out and there were erratic promotions between the Senior and Junior sections. Hawthorn, Northcote, Standard, Victoria United, Victorian Railways and Williamstown dropped out within a year or so but Hawthorn, Northcote and Williamstown were all to return at various times.

You can recognise some clubs that are currently in the AFL, but many have disappeared or playing in another competition. Of course in 1896 there was a split which created the VFL, which later became the AFL.

All this turmoil and changes was of course at a different time, before sponsorship and multi million TV rights. But this also happened when there wasn’t a huge media attention.  But the point I am making is that a new competition may need some time to settle.

Ultimately as a fan, and as someone who hopes that Association Football becomes viable and sustainable in Australia (and this doesn’t mean that it has to become the number one code, which I believe it will never happen) I fervently hope that this crisis will not kill the A-League but make it stronger.  As I said in a previous post it seems that some football fans would be happy to see the A-League fail.  There are issues with the FFA and the A-League, that is sure. But for the sake of the code in Australia let’s hope that it goes through the crisis and takes the opportunity to change and grow, the alternative is too dire to contemplate.

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Next A-League team: Tasmania? Canberra? Really?

With the unforunate demise of Gold Coast United, there has been speculation about where the next A-League team could come from.  The most obvious place is Western Sydney.  Something that should have been done years ago, before trying teams in Townsville or the Gold Coast.

It is somewhat puzzling why the FFA went for those locations.  I would venture that Townsville was to impress FIFA to show that our World Cup bid was truly national, and Gold Coast was because they probably saw a demographic report that showed that the Gold Coast was one of the greatest growth areas in Australia and thought that they should place a team there.  I am speculating of course. Maybe the FFA did do a very detailed analysis. But the fact remains that the Northern Fury was dropped like a hot mango after our World Cup bid failed, and we all know what has happened Gold Coast United. Being taken away from Clive Palmer who, between becoming a national treasure and telling Wayne Swan how to run the country, has created an alternative universe of Australian footballdom.

I do hope that the FFA will get Western Sydney right.  It is a growth area and it has a long football tradition, unlike the AFL which most probably will pour millions of dollars to make an impact and get some traction.

But I have been intrigued by some comments in forums aout the next team being Tasmania or Canberra.  I know that football fans in these areas have done a lot of work in bidding for an A-League team, and I do hope that there will be a Tasmanian or Canberra team in the future, but I can’t see why rationally they should be placed ahead of a Western Sydney team.   I may be wrong, but both areas do not strike me, unlike Western Sydney, areas which have had strong football traditions.  Canberra had the have the Raiders in the NRL and from what I can see Tasmania is Australian Rules through and through.  When I read comments saying  that there are plenty of people playing football in either Tasmania and Canberra, I would say that experience has shown that this does not necessarily translate necessarily in a strong following of an A-League team. Players play football but then follow the AFL or the NRL and are not intested in the local teams or follow a team overseas.

Again, by all means, let’s have a team in Tasmania, Canberra and even Wollongong (I still remember the Wolves from the NSL days) but let’s find areas where football has had a bit of a traditon first.

UPDATE 22/3/12   Very interesting article by about the A-League expansion.  He makes a very good case why maybe Canberra should be the next team and we should wait for Western Sydney. http://www.ultimatealeague.com/blog/2012/03/why-the-a-league-expansion-strategy-is-an-upside-down-pyramid/

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Who wants to have a millionare? I don’t

(or how not to start a football club 101)

Wheels are falling off

It’s now official.  The wheels are falling off the Gold Coast Football Club.  This was going to be the ‘big thing’ in the A-League for the 2009-10 season.  A multi-millionaire with loads of money, Jason Culina coming back from Europe to play in the team.  The owner of the team, Clive Palmer even claimed that the team would go through the season undefeated.

It started promisingly, but what do we have now?  Low crowds, a huge thumping of 6-0 by the Wellington Phoenix and now having to limit the crowds to 5000 because of stadium costs.

Gold Coast has become a textbook case of how not to start a football team.  Especially in an area where the sport in question is not the major one.

People may come to see the new thing once, but then you have to somehow create some emotional connection with the team.  With AFL and NRL which have been around for yonks, these have been established through generations.  So even teams that haven’t tasted any success for years have a strong following.  But this is not the case with a new team, especially as I said if it is in a sport which is not the major code, such as football.

It seems that Gold Coast thought that just pouring money would instantly create a success.  But a football team is not the same as digging minerals out of the ground and selling them to the Chinese.

Fans and journalists of the other codes may enjoy this mess.  However the lure of the rich person saving a club in hostile territory has been done before by other codes.

By the mid 80’s the Sydney Swans were going badly.  Losing money and low attendances.  So in came medical entrepreneur Dr. Geoffrey Edelsten in 1985. Edelstein instigated a marketing campaign based on razzmatazz, excitement and a carnival atmosphere. The doctor flew a pink helicopter and cheer girls waved their goodies at the crowd.

swans

Of course, once the razzmatazz became old hat, the support dwindled and the club once more tittered on the edge of extinction. By 1988 the licence was sold back to the VFL for ten dollars. Losses were in the millions. A group of financial backers including Mike Willessee, Basil Sellers, Peter Weinert and Craig Kimberley purchased the licence and bankrolled the club until 1993, when the AFL stepped with substantial monetary and management support, draft and salary cap concessions.

The fact is that Edelsten, like Palmer seems to treat the team as a diversion, something to look good with rather than something driven by the passion for the sport.

As the football tragic rightly say:

The ticket prices at the club are obscene by Australian standards, and given that one of the promised benefits of membership (see here) was free public transport to the ground, members who will be deprived of this (to the best of my knowledge) under the 5,000 cap have the right to be mightily peeved.

It is another salutary lesson for the A-League as a whole: lone, messiah-style investors, particularly those with only tenuous links to the game, are a mixed blessing at best. Plenty of pundits were frankly fawning over Palmer only a few short months ago, but the demeanour of the man throughout has been that of someone savouring a new toy…one which might be dispensed with in short order.

The fans (small number as they are) are peeved and have threatened boycotting the next match.

My hunch about what is happening is somewhat confirmed by reports inside the club that the club’s lacks football culture.

Contrast this to the North Queensland Fury, which despite a horrible start has been able to build a reasonable attendance (if you take account of the total population of Townsville) and apparently from what I hear is attempting to connect to the local community.

And it seems that Gold Coast is not getting it.  as seen in an interview with the
CEO Clive Mensink

So after ten rounds you ran up the white flag?
I don’t think we need to be negative about it. We want to be here for not just this year. We want to be here for the years beyond. We want to make sure football is successful. It’s a matter of re-grouping and minimising the cost. It does cost Clive Palmer in opening the stadium up. I think it’s unfair to judge Clive as giving up or suggesting he shouldn’t have got involved when you’ve got to ask why aren’t the people coming?

That’s not the fault of the fans surely?
Isn’t it? The team’s on top of the table, you had second versus third with Perth and we only got 4,000. So is that the fault of Clive Palmer? Why didn’t they come? They knew about it. The game’s on.

The whole interview is a bit like that.  No insight why fans are not turning up.

Let’s hope that they change tack.  Or maybe someone else should have a go.

Update: Good article by David Hall in The Punch

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Time for a new ‘Crawford Report?’

If there is a document that Australian football supporters need to keep as a venerated text is certainly the 2003 Report of the Independent Soccer Review Committee, also known as the Crawford Report.

That was the watershed moment when football was seen as an important aspect of culture in Australia. So important in fact that the government provided a circuit breaker to the continuous rounds of ineptness, cronyism and maladministration by Soccer Australia.

We know what happened after that report. The establishment of Football Federation Australia, the A-League, qualification to the World Cup and admission to Asia.

However while the overall result has been positive, there are some aspects that need to be revised. And these come down to how the FFA is managing the sport, especially domestically. The A-League is five years old now. Maybe it’s time to review how things are going and whether anything can be improved and changed.

Interestingly the issues are both sides of the same coin. The FFA has within it very highly qualified sport administrators, but are these familiar with a ‘football culture?’ It seems to me that top FFA administrators may have come into the job with a certain negative perception of how the sport was and they endavoured to steer clear from that as much as possible to turn ‘old soccer into new football’. However by doing that they may have thrown out the baby with the bathwater.

Don’t mention the ‘E’ word

As an ‘ethnic’ myself I recognised that there were problems with having a soccer competition where teams were identified with a particular group. Of course fans of South Melbourne, or the Melbourne Knights would protest that they endavoured to become more mainstream. However despite all the efforts the fact that South Melbourne was ‘Greek’ and Melbourne Knights ‘Croatian’ was hard to dispel. From the colours of the team which reflected the national flags of those countries, the ethnic origin of the administration and the fan base itself, it was clear where those teams took their culture from. And I am going to paraphrase Seinfeld and say that ‘there is nothing wrong with that’. However the reason why anyone support a team is varied, and feeling some affinity with it is important. I think that just the perception, whether right or wrong, that one team belonged to a particular group discouraged prospective fans.

So a brand new teams with no cultural baggage were created. Now many supporters of the old teams left behind describe A-League teams as ‘plastic’ and they do have a point. It is true that people that gave their time and effort to maintain the sport through pretty dark times have been completely disregarded by the new guard, and maybe they have a point to feel somewhat aggrieved. But these people love and breathe football. It cannot be disputed that NSL teams produced world class players that provided the backbone of the Socceroos that went to Germany.

Is there any way they can be brought back to the fold? The issue here is they may not want to do anything with the FFA and the A-League, and the FFA may still distrust the ‘old soccer’. But surely after five years maybe some sort of rapprochement could be established. The combination of the knowledge of traditional football people with the business skills and acumen of the FFA would make a powerful combination. New fans are fine. But it those who have been born and bred in the sport that will stay with it thick and thin. And lots of those are ‘ethnic’.

Family First

I have touched upon the way the FFA seems to want support to occur, and the extenct they go to to ensure that occurs.

One of the holy dictums of the FFA is that football has to be ‘Family Friendly’, and to be truthful I can understand why that is the case. The sport cannot have healthy attendances if limited only to active supporters, muzzas and nostalgic middle aged men like me. However what the FFA (and clubs in general I think) sees as ‘family friendly’ has to be examined. Word has it that the Melbourne Victory Northern Terrace when negotiating with the Club when the FFA forced reserved ‘seating’ onto the clubs, they asked to have a bay for active families next to the NT. Apparently the club refused categorically (one of the few things they refused outright) someone even stated that “as a father” he didn’t approve of children involved in active support (the fact that the club sells family memberships in areas dedicated to active supporters anyway, is another story). So there is this image that active support scares the kids. I can vouch personally that the only scary thing my then nine year old son ever saw in active areas were police in riot gear.

Somehow the idea that any support that does not somehow conduct itself as those who occur in other codes is not ‘family friendly’ is a phurphy. But this belief shows again that the FFA seems to have a phobia about active support. Of course we don’t want fans throwing chairs at each other. But the FFA seems to see active supporters as a threat, rather than as people who are passionate about the sport, and one of the differences between the other codes, that people may come and experience, including families.

Build it and they will come

The way the FFA set up the A League was commendable. The financial instability of some NSL teams had to be avoided, and teams had to provide some sort of financial plan before they were admitted. However some of the latest decisions by the FFA for expansion has left me puzzled. One is the placing of a team in the Gold Coast, and the other is the second Melbourne Team.

I am no business person, and I know that the FFA has shown business acumen, so who am I to judge. However I wonder why place a team in the Gold Coast, a place with little football tradition. My perception of the Gold Coast is of locals who are into Rugby and retired Victorians who would be into Australian Rules football.

The other is the second Melbourne team. Melbourne Victory I think has already caught most of the football market I think, I don’t know where other fans can come from. I think that the football fans that are not following Melbourne Victory are those mentioned above that are pissed off with the FFA anyway because they feel disenfranchised so I don’t think they will flock to another ‘plastic’ team. The other group are the ‘eurosnobs’ that would not go near the A-league unless it reaches Serie A/Liga/EPL standard, so they are unlikely to come on board.

I am sure the FFA would have done plenty of studies in potential markets etc. But football is not like soap. There are emotional and psycho-social elements involved in following a team. Just because Melbourne is a big market, and the Gold Coast is the sixth most populous city in Australia doesn’t mean that people will flock to matches.

Hopefully things have been done better for Western Sydney, where people are interested in the sport.

So what’s next?

I think it’s time to take stock. The A-League as a new enterprise and some things work and some do not, and that’s to be expected. I think it would be advantageous if a review was taken and see what went right and how to enhance it and what didn’t go well and what has to be done about it. Football is still a fragile flower in Australia. It requires lots of care and attention to ensure it will grow and thrive.

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A-League attendances. No need to hit the panic button yet.

There has been plenty of gnashing of teeth regarding the A-League attendances this year.  Many anti-football people are already sharpening their knifes and mentioning the word ‘basketball’ while football fans are worried whether we are falling back to the insignificance of the old NSL.

In ‘The Roar’ Adrian Musolino dissects this issue.  While in the same website fans also write worryingly about the trend.

I must admit that I don’t like these type of articles because they can give some credit to the argument from the Rebecca Wilsons of this world that the A-League is like basketball and inevitably it will fail and become an NSL v.2.

They also give fuel to the annoying ‘old soccer’ rump that was mightily pissed off that their NSL teams were not included in the A-League and greet any poor attendance with schadenfreude.  Not to mention the ‘euro-snobs’ that state that this is proof that the A-League is rubbish, no one should watch it and should concentrate on the EPL and Champions League on Foxtel instead.

However if attendances fall we have to face reality.  So I went and did a bit of number crunching.

This is a graph of how attendances have gone this year so far.

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It is true that the numbers haven’t been as big as previous years.  But this has to been seen in context of a number of factors.  The A-League has started in August when the more popular codes of Australian Football and Rugby League were in full swing.  The Global Financial Crisis may have made some people wary about committing to something that can be seen as a ‘luxury’ (and in some cases, notably Brisbane the tickets are way too expensive).  And of course the fact is that some may have been attracted by the ‘new thing’ and now are getting their thrills somewhere else.   But also for some reason the FFA has decided not to publicise the competition in a big way as it has done in previous seasons.

But statistics don’t tell the whole story.  Let’s look at the following graph.

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Melbourne again is the leader of the pack with the highest most consistant support.  Just to give an idea of how well they are supported the average attendance so far in the midst of the later stages of the AFL and finals is 17,575.  While for Melbourne Storm, which belongs to a very well publicised Murdoch backed competition for this season has been 11,764.

Adelaide and Sydney are not doing too badly either.  And Wellington is a surprise considering they have been the least successful team in the A-League so far and perhaps New Zealand hasn’t had the benefit of a large post-war football loving European immigration.

But there are teams which have been consistently below expectation.  One is new team Gold Coast, that being new on the scene, with regular Socceroo Culina and having done well at the start of the season you would expect could have done better.  Maybe the Gold Coast is mainly inhabited by Rugby League fans and expatriate Victorians that love Aussie Rules after all.  Brisbane has also been a bit of a disappointment.  There are a number of reasons for this that have been well outlined by Fiona Crawford in her blog (but the very expensive tickets are a major issue).

Newcastle is also a worry, considering it is traditionally a football region and have won the A-League just a couple of years ago.  Speculation is that the way the team has been controlled by Con Constantine could be a factor.

Having said that we also have to consider that having 13,000 average is great. The smaller clubs are always going to fluxuate from mid teens when successful to 5-6000 when doing terrible.

So now we will see what happens now that the AFL season is over and the NRL finishes next week.  I would hope that the FFA would crank up the publicity machine and say to people that there are matches to be seen.

No need to panic, as yet.

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