A-Leagues Independent Chairman Stephen Conroy on how the APL will evolve post-World Cup

Stephen Conroy - A-Leagues Chairman

For Stephen Conroy and the Australian Professional Leagues (APL), it has been a time of significant change.

In his new role as Independent Chair, Conroy has recently seen the departure of former Chief Executive Officer Danny Townsend, leaving A-Leagues Commissioner Nick Garcia and KEEPUP Managing Director James Rushton to lead the APL.

Ahead of launching the 2023/24 A-Leagues season, it has proved to be a very busy period for the APL in amongst the CEO change – with the reversal of the Grand Final decision, announcing the brand-new U-Nite Round to take place in Sydney, confirming the sale of Perth Glory and identifying the preferred bidder for the Auckland licence.

After bidding farewell to the APL’s inaugural CEO, the focus has shifted to restoring faith in the A-Leagues fanbase – as the men’s and women’s World Cups need to be the kick-starter for football in Australia.

Speaking at Melbourne Victory’s Chairman function at AAMI Park before the Round 2 match against Newcastle Jets, Conroy reflected on a whirlwind period for the APL and football as a whole.

“It’s an exciting time coming off the back of the exceptional performance of the Matildas,” Conroy said.

“The standalone women’s round for the Liberty A-League was hugely positive with the record crowd and atmosphere we saw at the Sydney Derby.

“You’re seeing the enthusiasm with 1.6 million Australians and two million New Zealanders watching the two respective nations play.

“In funny because people almost forget the Socceroos and how well they did at Qatar – we talk about 2006 and the Golden Generation, but genuinely the performance in this tournament was absolutely stunning.”

The record attendances and memberships have been a huge plus for Conroy and the APL, particularly for women’s teams with numbers reaching unprecedented levels.

“As an example we’ve already seen Melbourne Victory go past 20,000 for memberships, so that’s a huge tick,” he said.

“With record turnouts and memberships, we are getting the sense that it is really happening now for people around the country in football.

“There’s so much in front of us at the moment.”

An integral part of the APL has been KEEPUP, which has recently undergone a revamp to split A-Leagues content into its own site.

Conroy outlined the digital strategies behind KEEPUP which has been a major inclusion since the APL’s inception.

“KEEPUP was launched when we unbundled from Football Australia – recently people might have been wondering why the app has morphed back into A-Leagues,” he said.

“In the rush to unbundle, we didn’t own the rights to call it the A-League app, but now we’ve got that sorted.

“What we will now start to see is a more rich product and this turns eyeballs into bums on seats or viewing on TV.

“KEEPUP’s mission is to drive people to watch the game at the ground, through free to air or streaming.”

Conroy also linked back to the numbers we saw from the Women’s World Cup, and how that will be a motivator for future growth of the A-Leagues.

“For all of us that went to any of the World Cup matches, part of it was needing to download the FIFA app,” he said.

“As we saw earlier, there’s 1.6 million Australians who want to watch a game of football – so we’ll be sitting down with Football Australia to work out how to succeed together.

“What we want to see is which team people want to support, get them to more games in-person and turn more casual fans into fully-fledged members.”

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Liam Watson is the Co-Founder & Publisher of Soccerscene. He reports widely on football policy, industry matters and technology.

Newcastle Jets secure A-League future with new owners confirmed

Newcastle Jets have confirmed Maverick Sports Partners as the Club’s new owners. This ownership, subject to final approval from the APL and Football Australia, will launch a “new era” for the Jets under MSP ownership.

This massive announcement comes not long after Australian Professional Leagues chairman Stephen Conroy failed to guarantee Newcastle’s future only three months ago.

The statement said that Maverick Sports Partners have confirmed an agreement to acquire the Newcastle Jets Football Club and are now deeply focused on implementing their plans to bring long term stability and success to this Club.

The Group lead by experienced sports administrator Maurice Bisetto who played a major part in the establishment of Western United FC in the A-Leagues.

Maverick Sports Group is an Australian sports consortium based out of Wetherhill Park in Sydney’s South-West.

Newcastle Jets CEO Shane Mattiske confirmed the significant news.

“Today is a hugely significant day for this Club and this community, as we confirm Maverick Sports Partners as the new owners of the Jets,” said Mattiske in a club statement.

“Over the last three years, we have built a strong foundation for the future of this football club, and it is exciting to be beginning a new era with incoming owners who believe in the opportunity that exists with this Club, with this community and with football as a whole.

“Throughout our process, Maurice Bisetto, the consortium representative, and his partners have demonstrated a deep understanding of football and how to bring success. They also understand this community and their plans are very much aligned with the work that is already underway. I know the Group will bring positive new thinking, new connections and a wealth of experience that will drive the growth of this Club moving forward.

“With this transition to a permanent ownership structure, it is important to acknowledge the support that the outgoing ownership group has provided to the Club over the last three and a half years. These owners believed in the importance of this Club to this community and to the A-Leagues’ competition as a whole.

“They have played a hugely significant role in the history of this Club and on behalf of all fans and stakeholders of the Jets I want to acknowledge the commitment and contribution they have made to us all. Their huge support of this Club will forever be remembered.”

Maverick Sports Partners Director Maurice Bisetto is determined to connect with the Newcastle, Hunter Valley and Northern NSW Community.

“We believe in this Club, the A-Leagues and its players and we’re determined to build success for the Jets and this region,” said Bisetto in a statement.

“We have been impressed by the strength of football here in this region. We know there is a strong historical fanbase and a strong participation base here and we want to bring all of these people together for our Men’s and Women’s games.

“Our team at Maverick Sports Partners are absolutely committed to, and very excited, about the opportunity that exists here at the Newcastle Jets. We see this as the beginning of a new era for the Newcastle Jets and look forward to building a truly great Club with the support of this community.”

This news is huge for the league and the Jets financially, with the club no longer being a financial responsibility for the four other A-League clubs that funded them (Sydney FC, Western Sydney, Western United and Wellington Phoenix).

The Jets can easily recruit players and rebuild to become a stronger unit on the field whilst securing stability off it, and the foundation A-League club with a healthy fanbase and great location can continue to exist.

Iconic Lambert Park re-opens after $2m refurbishment

Lambert Park, home of the APIA Leichardt Football Club, officially re-opened on the weekend after a successful $2m refurbishment.

The extensive investment for the iconic local club includes:

– Replacement of the all-weather playing surface

– Improved drainage

– New concrete edge, stairs and fencing around the perimeter

– Improved access with a new ramp to allow access on the field

The ground is gradually improving to become one of the premier NPL surfaces in the country and this is another one of many recent upgrades helped by the commitment of the Inner West Council.

Currently the ground has two main stands on either side of the playing surface. In the southern stands, there are dressing room facilities, a social club with views of the game, press facilities and media facilities.

On Sunday, the new look Lambert Park was the home for the APIA Leichardt vs Gladesville Ravens NPL Women’s game, and the day was spent in celebration of the refurbishment, as the club organised an event.

The event included an official ceremony by Inner West Council pre-game, free ice cream and activations which drew a decent crowd to the game.

APIA posted an update regarding Sunday’s re-opening.

“Lambert Park was filled with Maroon and Blue as over 400 predominantly female footballers celebrated the $2 million Lambert Park upgrade,” APIA confirmed on their social media accounts.

“The day was filled with some fantastic football and some great activations and enjoyed by all.

“The clubs would also like to thank local clubs Balmain & District Football Club, Leichardt Saints and opponents on the day Gladesville Ravens Women’s NPL football for supporting the day.

“It was a special day for football in our community.”

Lambert Park is an iconic ground that has seen some of Australia’s best names start their careers there since it was first used in 1954.

APIA Leichardt Football Club has produced more Matildas and Socceroos than any other club in Australian history.

The ground gets another much deserved upgrade and will continue to host NPL NSW matches across all age groups in both men’s and women’s competitions.

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