A-League clubs to be given only $530k in funding for next season

The Australian Professional Leagues (APL) have confirmed the annual grants distributed to A-League clubs will be slashed close to 75 per cent for the upcoming 2024/25 season.

After an APL board meeting, clubs were informed that next year’s distribution would total to just $530,000, from $2 million the season before.

The A-League Men minimum spending floor is $2.25 million with a salary cap limit of $2.6 million.

For wealthier clubs such as Melbourne City, they would be able to cover the remaining costs to reach the minimum spending floor. However, this would leave smaller clubs in the A-League in a much more complex financial position.

Back in 2018, before separating from Football Australia, the annual club distribution was around $3.6 million.

APL Chair Stephen Conroy released a statement concerning the significant financial cuts.

“The decision, which has been under discussion with league and Board representatives over the past few months, aligns with the Board’s commercial review of the A-Leagues since the original three-year strategy came to an end,” Conroy said via the A-Leagues website.

“We are committed to right-sizing the A-Leagues which is why we’ve been focused on cutting costs across the leagues, growing our core football product and uniting the football pyramid to support the growth of our game.

“The Board, the Leagues and the Clubs are committed to continuing to deliver the best football possible. We have our eye firmly on the future. Our core metrics are positive, with three years of growth, which will position the league for revenue growth in the future.”

These recent deductions raise many questions about how the APL and A-Leagues ended up in this financial conundrum and where has their money gone over the last couple of years?

One of the main reasons the APL was forced to make these financial cuts was due to overspending on its website, KEEPUP.

Launched in 2021 during the peak of COVID, the former APL CEO Danny Townsend said the cost to set up the league’s digital content production arm was estimated to be around $30 million. However, the site was not popular with the fans who criticised the app and website for not solely focusing on Australian football.

Despite showing potential, the APL went overboard very early and now has to deal with the consequences of it.

Another key event that has contributed to the recent financial issues dates back to December 2022, where the league signed a controversial deal with Destination NSW to host the A-Leagues Grand Finals in Sydney regardless of which teams qualified. The deal – which was worth an estimated eight-figure sum – received a lot of backlash from fans leading to protests such as the infamous pitch invasion during the Melbourne Derby.

Even former Adelaide United player and Socceroo Craig Goodwin, who was involved in the promotional video for Destination NSW and the A-League Grand Finals, posted a tweet saying he did not support the partnership. However, the league eventually turned their back on the deal after just one season.

The A-Leagues has also struggled to gain revenue from its current TV-rights deal with Paramount+ and Network 10 due to the numerous targets that the A-Leagues must meet to guarantee funding from their broadcast partner. The initial deal which was signed before the 2021/22 A-Leagues season was worth $200 million over five years.

After one season these goals were not met, it led to the Destination NSW deal. Also the decrease in subscribers due to issues with Paramount+, such as the inability to pause and rewind as well as significant streaming issues, combined with the lack of popularity and publicity of the league resulted in the APL only taking $5 million from the deal last season.

With broadcasting deals being such an integral aspect of generating income in the footballing world, the fact the APL only received such a small sum from a deal where they could have received much more is a big reason for their financial difficulties.

Despite the APL chair Stephen Conroy claiming the reductions in central distribution has come as no shock to clubs, this is a worrying time for the A-Leagues. The APL will need to find quick and responsible solutions to combat their financial difficulties if they want the leagues to continue to be operational and have some sort of future to expand and grow.

Uncertainty looms around National Second Tier’s future

The highly anticipated National Second Tier (NST) in its proposed format is set to be postponed by Football Australia, with the body looking to find alternative ways to include these NPL clubs into a similar structure that would be more financially viable.

Vince Rugari of the Sydney Morning Herald broke the news on Tuesday claiming the highly ambitious second tier was likely going to be put on hold after the original plan was to have 10 to 14 foundation clubs forming a separate league, without promotion or relegation to start.

There was a very high financial threshold that the eight foundation clubs needed to reach in order to be granted a licence and unfortunately with rumours of some in the eight sceptical of its viability, other NPL clubs with a proposal in the original plan have backed away from the idea for the time being.

For what is meant to be a ‘national competition’, having clubs from NSW and Victoria only is quite restricted but the search for a financially strong club outside of the two states, willing to take that massive financial risk, is a task that is too difficult in the country’s current state of football affairs.

There has been a lack of a clear message from Football Australia across the past 12 months. The eight foundation clubs were left on standby about important information like the correct format, whether it was going to expand to 10 or 12 teams that Football Australia promised multiple times, or when the league would actually kick off in winter of 2025 or beyond that considering the shaky A-League finances being the main subject of discussion surrounding the initial success of the NSD.

After the A-Leagues controversial call to reduce initial funding of top tier clubs to $530k a year from its usual $2m a year, a properly run second division seems like a task too far down its priority list despite the positive feedback it has received from fans and clubs about implementing a ‘transformative’ system mirroring European football.

An idea being floated around as a possible solution to the unviability of a separate league is to add existing A-League teams to the ‘Champions League-style’ second division, which would essentially be a more exclusive version of the existing Australia Cup.

Football Australia CEO James Johnson told The Asian Game exclusively that “we will have a (national) second tier it will exist,” but the home and away format played during the winter is a long shot and the foundation clubs are left in limbo wondering what their immediate futures are considering the heavy financial investment they will have to make if it goes ahead.

This whole saga has been a case of Football Australia pushing away the problems that quickly arose from this ambitious idea and being too reactive when it comes to finding a solution that would be fair for the foundation clubs financially.

The NSD must wait and not force itself into a fragile Australian football landscape that has many more issues it must worry about in the top flight before building a second division that could financially damage some of the most historic clubs in Victoria and NSW.

In a world where Australian football needs authority and structure, the collapse of the original idea of the NSD proves there is a long way to go and communication towards the clubs and fans involved has to improve.

Newcastle Jets’ new owners add key pieces for upcoming season

Newcastle Jets’ new owners, Maverick Sports Partners, have hired Ken Schembri as General Manager of Football and Ben Hawes as General Manager of Commercial, Digital and Marketing for this upcoming season.

The appointment of Schembri and Hawes reaffirms Maverick Sports Partners’ intent to invest in high-quality resources, which should excite Newcastle fans for this upcoming season.

Schembri had previously worked with the reigning champions, the Central Coast Mariners, being an essential part of establishing the Central Coast Mariners Football Academy and their Centre of Excellence when he joined in 2014.

Schembri will manage the A-League Men’s roster, oversee player performance and development, and handle recruitment for all football departments.

The Mariner’s Academy has produced many young and exciting Australian talent including Garang Kuol and Max Balard who have all gone to join clubs in Europe after their time in Gosford. Schembri has most recently played a key role in Central Coast’s recent success as Head of Football.

Maverick Sports Partners Director Maurice Bisetto commented about the new additions.

“We are excited to have both Ken and Ben join the Newcastle Jets team. They will be integral to the strategy and direction of the Club’s New Era, providing expertise and support, on and off the pitch,” said Bisetto in a club statement.

These two joined the Jets after the club were bought by the Australian company only last month.

Hawes has prior experience in Sponsorship, Marketing and Content roles at the National Rugby League, Sportsbet, BlueBet and Sydney FC.

Hawes will focus on expanding and diversifying the clubs commercial revenue streams which includes growing the sponsorship portfolio. He will also deal with commercialising the club’s digital channels as well as implementing new marketing and fan engagement strategies.

Due to these recent moves, Newcastle have the potential to produce exciting Australian talent and grow its brand across the league which will help the club continue to improve both on and off the pitch and ultimately strengthen their stability for future seasons.

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