APL CEO Danny Townsend on why A-Leagues All Access is giving football an edge

Yengi

In a season built around rejuvenation, the in-house produced A-Leagues All Access has led the way for the Australian Professional Leagues (APL) in 2022-23.

A-Leagues All Access – a key part of the APL’s strategy to start to win back the disenchanted many left alienated by the previous administration – was set to debut as a flagship offering under the APL’s first full season in charge of the A-Leagues (2021-22). However, as has been the case since 2019-20, COVID-19 delivered disruption in spades, and the APL were forced to shelve the project until now.

The series is presented week-to-week in a fly-on-the-wall manner akin to Amazon’s ‘All Or Nothing’ show, except in comparison A-Leagues All Access delves into the experiences of one individual’s actions on matchday and the broader impact of their influence on the team. So far, the series has given fans insight into Central Coast Mariners starlet Garang Kuol, Sydney FC detractor Milos Ninkovic, and Chloe Logarzo’s role at the heart of the debut Liberty A-League campaign for Western United women’s.

Accumulating more than 2.2 million video views and over 4.6 million social media impressions (as of November 23), the success of A-Leagues All Access thus far is reflected in the correlation between the aforementioned video views and social media impressions and transition of interest onto free-to-air (FTA) broadcasts of the A-League Men, with the APL confirming a 33% growth in FTA viewership between episodes 1 and 4 of A-Leagues All Access.

The reception alone is an indicator of eyes and ears being pulled towards the sport, as well as the hearts and minds being won back by the APL.

Speaking with Soccerscene ahead of the restart of the A-League Men’s season, APL CEO Danny Townsend explored why exactly A-Leagues All Access is resonating with fans, the motivations behind the series, and how the series provides football with an edge over the rest of Australia’s competitive sporting landscape.

Luis Nani

Why do you feel that A-Leagues All Access has resonated with Australian football fans?

Danny Townsend: Well, I think at the end of the day football fans want to look under the hood and see what goes on. Watching 90 minutes of football can be compelling but really getting to understand the behind-the-scenes ongoings they’re not accustomed to seeing is something that I’m sure has driven a huge amount of the interest in A-Leagues All Access.

When you’re close to the action as someone who works in the game you take it for granted, but when you’re a fan on the outside and you’re not accustomed to seeing it, it really brings to life that experience of being inside of a dressing room or board room, or at a training ground. But more importantly when you’re watching the game unfold over 90 minutes you can connect those things together and get a full experience.

It feels like A-Leagues All Access is connecting fans to the leagues in a way they’ve always craved for. How significantly did re-engaging disenchanted fans play into the motivations behind A-Leagues All Access?

Danny Townsend: The APL has an overarching strategy that has three key pillars to it – one being how do we re-engage our core fans who’ve drifted particularly with COVID making it so difficult to give them certainty around when matches are played; that really affects your core more than anything else.

Our second pillar is looking at how we grow new audiences and the All Access program serves both. It serves to re-engage our core and gives them another reason to reignite their interest in their clubs or their players, and for new fans who haven’t watched the A-Leagues before, it maybe exposes them to some interesting content that draws them into it.

Finally, our third pillar is to grow the capabilities of our clubs and equally a lot of the content we’re creating through the capturing of All Access is finding its way to club socials, which is driving a lot of engagement there. So, it’s really designed to serve all three pillars of the APL’s strategy.

Obviously, A-Leagues All Access captures the unpredictable nature of football and more broadly, live sport. Why do you feel the series gives an edge to football over the other codes?

Danny Townsend: We’re not a sport that has 60 scoring opportunities in the actual match itself. The euphoria around goals being scored is limited in our game but when they are scored, they’re celebrated, but there is so much more to it. It drives excitement as you see the coach and how they’re engaging with their players, it shows how players are reacting to certain circumstances in the dressing room – those things are all heightening the experience for a fan. And if we can bring fans as close to live as we can that’s only going to bring them closer to our game.

If you look at other fly-on-the-wall documentary series’ like ‘The Test’ for cricket, it was launched over a year after the period it documented. Formula One ‘Drive to Survive’ is a retrospective look at the season that’s already gone and everyone that’s watching knows what’s already happened on the grid. Whereas with what we’re embarking on with A-Leagues All Access it’s live; it’s in the now; it’s basically bringing to life the match on that weekend and driving interest into next weekend’s match.

Western United

How is the series coordinated? Is the whole season mapped out or is it organised on a week-to-week basis?

Danny Townsend: We looked at the first six weeks to start with because we had some fairly predictable stories that would surface such as the Ninkovic example which was always going to be one that the fans would want to get in behind. Nani’s first game was an obvious one at the new stadium in Sydney that we wanted to follow. And Chloe Logarzo’s was her first game returning from injury at a new club in pursuit of being a part of the Matildas at next year’s World Cup.

So, there are certain ones we’ve identified throughout the 30 weeks that we’ll be going after and there’s ones we’ve left open. As stories evolve throughout the season based on the ebbs and flows of competitive sport there’ll be stories that unfold that we don’t know of yet that will be part of the 30 episodes.

Will the A-Leagues All Access series be looking to expand beyond players and coaches to potentially highlight fan groups such as the team at RBTV or any of the active support groups?

Danny Townsend: Absolutely! There’s only so many dressing room sprays that you want to put on air before they get boring.

But on a serious note, we’ve got so many colourful stories in our league from the fans to even the administrators and how decisions are made around clubs. There’s just so many different components of the A-Leagues that we want to bring to life. Obviously, you start with players because they’re the stars of the show and coaches are major contributors to the game. But as you move through those stakeholder groups, there’s certainly interesting stories in there and fans are certainly going to be a focus in upcoming episodes.

Has there been an onward effect in terms of viewership of and engagement with TV and Paramount+ viewership since the series started?

Danny Townsend: Absolutely. We’ve looked at it through two lenses: how do we drive full episode viewing on any of the platforms it’s on (KEEPUP, Paramount+, 10Play, YouTube) but also just as important is the social reach that we’re generating from it. The clips and the cut-up short-form content that we’re distributing has been enormous and has so far accumulated over three million views, which for Australia and our game is enormous. That’s building every week as it becomes more appointment viewing for people waiting for Thursday night for the next episode to drop and that’s something we expect to continue.

For mine, A-Leagues All Access is only one part of a broader content strategy for KEEPUP Studios. We’ve launched All Access with KEEPUP Studios but you’ll start to see a lot more content alongside our podcast series’ that have been coming out – I think our current podcast is the number one in football at the moment and that’s going to continue to build. And from a video standpoint you’ll be seeing more original content being developed by the APL and KEEPUP Studios, and as the season rolls out there’ll certainly be more shows to engage A-Leagues fans and football fans in general, so, watch this space!

Mariners

MLS NEXT Pro continues to expand with Connecticut United addition

Connecticut United FC joins MLS Next Pro

Connecticut (CT) United FC will join the ever-growing MLS NEXT Pro League in 2025, in a move that promises to reinvigorate the US state through investment in football infrastructure.

CT United becomes the fifth independent team to join US football’s third-tier national competition, which serves as a valuable development tool for young players at the 27 existing Major League Soccer (MLS) clubs.

It joins teams from Jacksonville, Florida and Chattanooga – who were recently announced by the MLS NEXT organisation.

Chattanooga FC have been competing at state-level for 15 years, allowing it to join the competition in 2024 alongside fellow independent club, Carolina Core FC.

Jacksonville Armada are expected to enter alongside CT United and a team from Cleveland, Ohio, in 2025.

The nucleus of CT United’s football operation will be based in Connecticut’s capital city, Bridgeport, after its Planning and Zoning Commission approved a project for a waterfront football-specific stadium.

The stadia will be a part of a larger infrastructure plan to create a mixed-use destination for retail, residential, and community zones. Bridgeport’s Mayor, Joseph Ganim, says the city is ready to drive the project.

“Bridgeport is in the midst of a renaissance, rebranding from an industrial city to now the capital of arts and entertainment of Connecticut,” he said via media release.

“I am proud to announce that MLS NEXT Pro will join that landscape in providing entertainment opportunities for Bridgeport residents and the region at large.”

The club’s formation represents the first foray into sports ownership for the Connecticut Sports Group (CTSG), an organisation founded and led by Connecticut local and technology entrepreneur, André Swanston.

Though in its infant stages, the organisation relies primarily upon its partnership with the University of Connecticut, and minor investors within the state.

Swanston, 42, becomes not just one of the youngest principal owners of a football club in the country, but also making a difference as one of the few Black sports owners in US sport overall.

“As CT United FC embarks on its MLS NEXT Pro journey, I want to extend deep gratitude to the incredible fans, community leaders and government officials who have embraced our vision – I am confident that, united, Connecticut can compete against anyone,” he proclaimed via press release.

“We are committed to building the infrastructure – from a free youth academy to a state-of-the-art stadium – needed to propel Connecticut to the highest levels of soccer.”

The formation of CT United represents an exciting prospect for the people of Connecticut, who will be eager to see CTSG deliver on its vision to ‘create unforgettable experiences that inspire communities.’

It also showcases Major League Soccer’s continuing expansion, and intent to re-invigorate communities across North America.

Saudi Arabia’s sporting presence strengthens

Saudi Arabia’s continuous growth within its entertainment sector has taken another major stride, with the Qiddiya Investment Company (QIC) involved in the creation of a futuristic Sports and Entertainment Stadium set to overlook the ever evolving, city of Riyadh.

Named after the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, The Mohammad bin Salman Stadium will hold up to 45,000 spectators.

The QIC enlisted the guidance of globally renowned architecture firm “Populous”, to assist with the conception of the complex stadium. Bold provisions, involving a retractable roof and LED wall, enable the stadium to transition depending on the requirements of the various events, it may host.

Ranging from lightshows, Football Matches, Boxing Events, E-Sport competitions. The question now begs, what Sport can it not host?

Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman has spearheaded the project, determined to guide Qiddiya, to ultimately become the World’s leading district of Sports and Entertainment. While aiming attention at shifting Saudi Arabia’s culture, through the Qiddiya philosophy,” the Power of Play”.

The Power of Play philosophy leverages extensive research showcasing how interactive activity is vital for cognitive development within society. How sport can be a driving force for unification and social cohesion.

The Stadium is another symbol, indicating the Saudi Arabian presence among the world Sport, becoming more ominous. However, what effect will this stadium have on Football? It is no surprise, given the financial competence, how Saudi Arabia continue to set trends within world football. World class players within Europe are beginning to trade continents, chasing more lucrative paydays abroad.

In what mirrors the stadium and its bold ambitions, Saudi Arabia continues to command its voice to be heard, on a global front in relation to their football. They can no longer be ignored. This state-of-the-art stadium is just another aspect of what the country is capable of, in becoming a football powerhouse.

It is beyond exciting to see Saudi Arabia spearhead a renaissance of football within Asia. Let’s see what magical moments can be created at this exciting location.

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