As always in Australian football, 2021 is set to be a big year.
After a year which was continually disrupted by a global pandemic, the game’s future seems to be much brighter in 2021. Here are some of the reasons why:
An Independent A-League and W-League
After years of infighting, the A-League and W-League were finally unbundled from Football Australia on the last day of 2020.
A new organisation of A-League club owners, under the moniker of Australian Professional Leagues (APL), will now take over the operational, commercial and marketing control of both leagues.
Essentially, the league’s power brokers will now have more incentive to invest and market the leagues as they now have the impetus to attract and organise their own business dealings.
Chair of APL and co-owner of the Western Sydney Wanderers, Paul Lederer, spoke of the importance of the deal: “This is an historic moment for the future of football in Australia – for the fan, for the player, for the whole game.
“It’s now time to earn and deliver the future our game deserves. The handbrake on the game is off; owners can finally invest in what they own and create value for the entire footballing ecosystem.
“Players can plan their careers in Australian football, fans can reconnect with the game that they love, and clubs can create meaningful moments for the whole Australian football family.”
Domestic Transfer System
One of Football Australia’s ‘XI Principles’ outlined the need to stimulate and grow the Australian football economy, with the establishment of a new and modern domestic transfer system mooted as a proposed measure.
Last week Football Australia released a Domestic Transfer System White Paper, which will set the wheels in motion to revamp the current model into one which falls in-line with the rest of the global game.
It’s an area where Australian football is falling behind, with FIFA reporting in 2019 that Australian clubs only received US$1.9 million in international transfer fees, compared to other Asian nations like Japan who garnered US$29.4 million.
Football Australia CEO James Johnson has placed significant importance on the issue and the implementation of a proper domestic transfer system will finally reward a broad range of clubs across the Australian football pyramid.
“The establishment of a modern Domestic Transfer System in 2021 by Football Australia will seek to remedy the ‘gap’ that has been created in the Australian football ecosystem by providing opportunities to progressive clubs at all levels of the sport to generate new revenue streams which can be deployed into the ongoing training and development of players, and the clubs themselves,” he said.
“We believe that the implementation of a fit-for-purpose system will have transformational benefits for football in Australia and particularly our professional and grassroots clubs by reconnecting the game and stimulating growth,” Johnson concluded.
National Second Division
The Australian Association of Football Clubs (AAFC) is set to release a report on the progress of their plans for a national second division in the coming days, in a move which should enthuse the Australian football public.
A national second division (eventually with promotion and relegation) will bring a range of benefits to the football system here and will be a unique identifier which separates the game from a range of other sports played on our shores.
There does seem to be some hesitance from A-League clubs however, to immediately green-light a national second division.
Chair of the APL, Paul Lederer, recently stated that a national second division wouldn’t eventuate within the next two years, claiming that expanding the A-League to 16 teams was a more urgent priority.
Speaking with Box2Box, AAFC Chairman Nick Galatas responded to Lederer’s comments. “It doesn’t really bother us much because I don’t think the issue will come down to Paul in the end. It’s not really about him”, he said.
“I was surprised to hear the comments, I’ve got to say, but equally had he said the opposite, it wouldn’t have mattered much either.
Ultimately, the decision will come down to Football Australia as the APL does not have the appropriate regulatory functions.
The current FA administration is much more willing than previous administrations to introduce a second tier, previously listing the need to continue the development of a framework for a national second division, in their ‘XI Principles’ document last year.
New Broadcast Deal
Fox Sports re-negotiated their TV deal with the A-League and other Australian football properties when the competition went into shutdown during the COVID pandemic.
The deal was reduced in both dollars and length, with Fox Sports paying just over $30 million for a one-year agreement which runs out in July of this year.
There is a possibility that Fox may pass on extending that deal, but that does present the game with opportunities to seek out a new broadcast partner or to take things into their own hands and build up their own streaming service.
The game’s TV deal with the ABC is also set to expire this year, with the need to find the right balance between free-to-air exposure and broadcast revenue becoming increasingly important.
New potential broadcasters that may be interested in striking an agreement include:
Optus Sport: Currently have the rights to competitions such as the English Premier League, UEFA Champions League, J-League and K-League,
Stan Sport: Recently entered the market by signing a deal with Rugby Union’s Super Rugby competition and are reportedly interested in securing the NBL rights in the future.
DAZN: Have started to dip their toes into the Australian landscape through other sports, after broadcasting football in multiple countries across the world.
Whatever the case, Australian football does seem to have options outside of Fox Sports, who have broadcasted the A-League for the past 16 seasons.
With many exciting possibilities to look forward to, the game should be in a stronger place by the end of 2021.