Australian football legend Gary Cole: “This is a wonderful time for the Socceroos and the Matildas”

With the Socceroos having achieved a fifth straight FIFA World Cup qualification for the 2022 edition set to be held in Qatar, Soccerscene chatted with Australian football legend, Football Victoria Hall of Fame inductee, and Football Coaches Australia Executive Committee member Gary Cole to touch on the significance of the occasion and where Australian football goes from here.

Gary Cole

How momentous of an occasion is this qualification?

Gary Cole: It’s probably not quite as big as qualifying for the first time in ’74, and then going back in 2006. Because they were from huge periods of not going – this is the fifth time in a row now. I think given how tough this qualification has been on the coaching and playing staff – with COVID quarantine, isolation and playing 16 out of 20 games away from home – it’s a remarkable achievement. And all power to Graham Arnold, his coaching team and the playing group that’s been there over the journey. It’s been Australian Socceroos being proud to wear the green and gold and doing everything they could to get us to another World Cup.

With yourself being such a significant part of Australian football’s history and now being a part of Football Coaches Australia, what’s it like for you seeing Graham Arnold reach what appears to be a definitive moment in his journey so far?

Gary Cole: Arnie’s been a wonderful servant of Australian football for such a long time now as a player and then as a coach. In his role as Socceroos coach, he jumped in to get the group to the Olympics and was doing two jobs during COVID.

In his time as a coach, he’s been incredibly giving to not just other Australian coaches and Football Coaches Australia, but coaches in general. He’s been battered from pillar to post, because not every soccer fan in Australia is a Graham Arnold fan. To think there were some people talking about not wanting to see Australia qualify because Graham would get his just desserts, well the just desserts for Graham are the fact that the team did qualify.

You couldn’t wish for success on anyone more than Graham. It’s no different from Ange doing what he did the last qualifying campaign through essentially the same process, albeit without COVID. I just can’t speak highly enough of the man and the way he’s carried himself throughout all of this. Most people didn’t know that he spent time in quarantine in a hotel by himself and was the only guest at the hotel. He moved to the UK and stayed at his grandma’s place to be around the team when people were locked down. Then he got hung, drawn and quartered because he dared to take his dog out for a walk. It is just fantastic to see, and I know how much it’ll mean for Graham as well. There’s a great joy in it for every soccer fan in the country, I think.

Socceroos Vs Peru

It’s pretty remarkable that the 2022 World Cup in Qatar will see the Asian Football Confederation represented by a record six national teams – Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Japan, Iran, South Korea and now, Australia. What do you think that signals about Asian football and where it’s at?

Gary Cole: I just think that there should be a red flashing light and a siren sounding the alarm if we needed that. We moved into Asia with the golden generation team and the region was in awe of our players playing in the Premier League. And even going further back than that in the 70s and 80s when I played, the Asian players have always been technically good but physically we were strong and could intimidate, and we won a lot of games in Asia that way.

Now of course the investment in Asian football, and not just the ‘big six’ but across the entire depth and breadth of Asia, has been heavy because in most of the countries it’s the number one sport. There’s been heavy investment into player development, coaching development and facility development, with a growth in players, coaches and administrators and because of where football is in Australia, we just haven’t seen that same level of investment and the truth is that they’ve caught us up. And many of them have gone by us.

Countries like Thailand and Vietnam have proved that on any given day they can beat us as well, because their investment in football is there. It’s fantastic for the region because we went into Asia and we wanted to have that regular contest, we didn’t actually think that would mean it would be harder for us to qualify. Because it’s not proved a whole bunch easier. But it is great that at all levels we get that regular competition and we can continue to grow our game and get better across all levels of it, if we’re going to be successful in Asia going forward.

With the Socceroos qualifying for the World Cup this year and the Matildas set to co-host a massive Women’s World Cup next year with New Zealand, it seems like there’s a lot of positivity in Australian football currently. How do you think the game’s leading stakeholders and authorities can capitalise on this moment?

Gary Cole: If you look back in our history, one of the most significant challenges we’ve had is that we’ve been divided. For some reason we find it incredibly difficult to get on the same page. This is a wonderful time for the Socceroos and the Matildas. We’ve got Trevor Morgan and our under 23s in a semi-final against Saudi Arabia in the AFC U-23 Asian Cup as well.

There’s so much happening with our national teams, men and women. If we can get more people on the same page then the game is going to be better for it. It will continue to grow and go up but we sort do that begrudgingly with an anchor around our neck. Watching the Socceroos game yesterday, how good were those Peru fans? And what you know is that’s a country where, I’m sure they don’t agree on everything, but when they come together and they put on that red and white it means so much. Wouldn’t it be immense in five or even 10-years’ time that’s the football culture that is developing here in Australia? That only comes from being on the same page.

Juventus Creator Lab: a novel strategy for football media

Over the years Juventus FC has had to endure substantial challenges on and off the field, however, they are making a robust return in the digital space. The club’s digital team is working diligently to establish new, stable revenue sources through the Juventus Creator Lab, initiating partnerships and launching new online platforms.

It is evident that the Italian giants have not been very forthcoming about their vision, strategy, and future plans for the club in recent years.

Considering the pressure they’ve faced after being docked 10 points by the Italian football federation’s appeals court, it’s understandable why they’ve been less communicative. This penalty resulted from an investigation into the club’s transfer activities.

The legal case remains unresolved, as the club maintains they have operated within the rules. Additionally, several executives were banned from football due to their involvement, leading to the appointment of a new executive team to bring stability to Turin.

One of the newer executives at Juventus Football Club is Mike Armstrong, who became Chief Marketing Officer in September 2021. The Canadian leader brings a diverse background in technology, having worked with Google and YouTube, and in advertising, with experience in fast-moving consumer goods brands like Kraft Foods and AB-Inbev, as well as in an esports start-up.

The Juventus Creator Lab is the birthplace of Juventus’ digital products, a fresh creative approach inspired by LA-style creator houses and gaming studios, designed to cater to a global fanbase.

The Juventus Creator Lab is designed to enhance accessibility and foster a closer connection across all areas of Juventus, including the men’s and women’s first teams, Next Gen, legends, esports teams, and even the innovative animated kids’ series dedicated to the younger fanbase, Team Jay.

With a rich background in corporate America, Armstrong objective is where the overarching aim has always been clear ever since he joined: to outpace competitors in growth while simultaneously enhancing profit margins.

This mentality is what Juventus and the entire football industry needs, a defined objective of consistently generating revenue to fund the development of a football team capable of competing with the world’s top clubs.

Armstrong talks about the instability within the industry via an interview for Off The Pitch, which he acknowledges as a fundamental aspect of sports. Success or failure in qualifying for competitions can cause substantial revenue fluctuations.

“For me, this is the approach we need to pursue. Players are always crucial, but they come and go, and their presence can be unpredictable. So, I believe all football clubs need to explore ways to make their business less susceptible to volatility. In my case, along with my colleagues, we confront a reality where players serve as key distribution drivers due to their social media followings,” he explains.

“However, recently, out of necessity, we decided that we had to develop a business model capable of ensuring substantial revenues even when major players departed the club. With this goal in mind, we’ve witnessed a significant transformation in our approach and operations, and we believe we’ve made considerable strides in recent years.”

With an annual revenue of $741 million, Juventus has faced difficulties in their digital operations after the departure of key social media influencers such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Angel Di Maria, Leandro Paredes, and Paul Pogba.

To determine the type of content creator you should become, it’s essential to understand your audience. Armstrong recognised that with 90 percent of Juventus fans living outside Italy and 40 percent of them being under 24 years old, the club needed to significantly rethink their approach.

They have achieved impressive milestones with 60 million followers on Instagram, 30 million on TikTok, and 7.5 million on YouTube. Armstrong mentions that they have exceeded initial expectations, and he anticipates substantial revenue growth from sponsors in the coming years.

A clear indicator of their progress is the addition of 2 billion more video views last season compared to the one before, and an overall increase of 159 percent in video views across their ecosystem over the past two seasons.

Simultaneously, they initiated several partnerships, including one with Celine Dept, a rapidly growing digital sports creator with 43 million followers. Juventus also partnered with 433, one of the world’s leading football communities boasting 115 million followers, and Wave Sports + Entertainment, which has over 130 million followers across its various accounts.

The difficult part for Juventus, as with all other clubs, is making sure they create content that connects with all their fans.

Looking at all this from a football landscape in Australia, it seems too good to be true to have a physical laboratory of where a clubs digital products are born, this would greatly benefit the Isuzu UTE A-League men’s and Liberty A-League women’s to enhance the clubs around the country not only on social media platforms but also both in a traffic and engagement aspect to be seen by global brands.

Hanh Tran: “I have a passion for providing a voice for women in sport”

Hanh Tran is a familiar voice across Football Victoria, having served as the original Series Futsal women’s broadcaster. Hanh has become well intertwined within women’s football across the state.

An advocate for women’s football, she has effectively singlehandedly shone a spotlight upon women’s futsal.

Throughout her established commentary career, Hanh has had broadcast involvement in finals, cup competitions and League matches across both indoor and outdoor women’s and men’s football competitions.

Speaking to Soccerscene, she discussed topics including being a commentator, what her dream is as a commentator, and the changes she would like to see in Australian womens football.

Tell me about yourself as a commentator.

Hanh Tran: I have been commentating on women’s soccer for a little over 5 years.  I first began commentating on woman’s futsal for the Series Futsal Victoria Women’s league, played at Futsal Oz.

At the time the Men’s competition had weekly commentators calling their game and the women’s did not.  I was also a player for the women’s league at the time.

I felt that the woman needed a voice to help boost and build their game, so I then made the initiative to jump on the mic and give commentating a try with the encouragement from owner Peter Parthimos I was in the box commentating my first week after.

In the beginning, it was all voluntary work and was more than happy to provide my time each week as it was something that I loved doing and the players enjoyed watching the game with commentary on it.

In late 2019 Football Victoria held an information seminar for women in media. This opened a huge door for me to help bring my commentating to a new level and provide me with a new challenge.

I was invited to join the Football Victoria commentary team for the upcoming 2020 season of NPL and NPL Women’s.

Unfortunately, due to COVID, I couldn’t make my debut to call the NPLW games that year. Fast forward to 2021 and I have been on the roster for most of this season calling the NPLW games.

I have a passion for providing a voice for women in sport, where at times there has been a male broadcaster calling female games. I feel the industry is in the progression of providing opportunities for diversity.

Growing up, I played every sport that was provided to me and loved being part of the community of sport.

When I watch I hear sports on the TV or radio, I’m so intrigued by the commentators and the way they capture the audience and entertain us in their own unique way when calling the game. I’m always listening out to different techniques and phrases that they use.

I remember watching the Matilda’s vs Vietnam in the Olympic qualifying match and made myself a personal goal to one day commentate a Vietnamese vs Australia football game.

Being from a Vietnamese background, that would be a dream come true. To represent Vietnam, Australia and be the voice for women’s football.

I want to be the pioneer of a Asian background and be a role model for future generation of commentators and media personnel.

What is something with women’s football you’d like to see change?

Hanh Tran: I would love to see more promotion and increasing the exposure of women in the media and to boost diversity in the industry.

I found there was a lack of content to champion and showcase the female players; and most of these outlets were hosted mainly by men.

More games being streamed, especially VPLW. More podcast, reels, panel shows. Pre game and post game interviews.

Advertisement of the players and their clubs, introductory videos of the clubs and teams, similar to USA college basketball and NFL and side line reporters.

What are your thoughts on the Nike Cup competition?

Hanh Tran: Love to see a VPLW team to get to the finals. One of the best quality games we’ve seen in a long time. 2 penalty shoot outs and 3 games going to extra time. They’ve been very close games.

Great exposure to smaller clubs that normally don’t get much limelight. FV have invested time and energy this year to make the cup stand out for the womens game.

Where would you wish to see growth within football in Australia?

Hanh Tran: More investment in the A league and growing the women’s game. So much support goes to the Matilda’s, but then no huge return of money invested in the A league.

Need more growth and international players come to the A-league to grow the game internationally to make it more entertaining.

Similar to what cricket did with the Big bash. Try something fun and exciting to bring in new and young viewers.

90 minutes is a long time to concentrate on a game that is low scoring, something that can bring in new football fans to watch the game.

A more sense of community and excitement, or collaboration with the men’s games, more double headers. The All-Star game was a hit against Arsenal, that will draw in more viewers and spectators.

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