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FA CEO James Johnson opens up on difficulties in the game and opportunities for the future

Speaking at Football Victoria’s Community in Business event on Friday, Football Australia CEO James Johnson reflected on his first 14 months in the top job of the sport, detailing the difficulties the organisation faced in 2020 and the opportunities it has in the coming years.

“I’d like to share with you what I walked into in January 2020,” Johnson told the audience in Melbourne.

“I walked into Football Australia and what I understood from the off was that the organisation had really lost a sense of unity. I believe the organisation had lost its connection with the community.”

Johnson criticised the focus of the governing body’s financial model, believing it was not looking after the best interests of the game overall.

“The business model was heavily centred on the A-League,” he said.

“That was what decision making evolved around, while other parts of the game, in my opinion, were neglected. The business model was disconnected, fractured and was inefficient. It was inefficient because of the duplication of administration. It wasn’t set up to foster growth for a thriving football ecosystem.

“The model denied the most significant part of our game, our identity, our community, our people, our stories, our diverse and multicultural base and our great national teams.

“In place of this identity, we’ve allowed a narrative to proliferate over the past 10-15 years that is divided, politicised, old soccer against new football, but this is not what our game is.”

Football Australia CEO James Johnson

The former Brisbane Strikers player admits that the game is far from perfect in this country and needs to address a range of issues.

“We have some really serious challenges ahead of us,” he said.

“We don’t own enough facilities for our growing base, we have too many players, we are turning children and families away from our code because we don’t have enough infrastructure around the country. This is a real issue.

“The performance gap that we released in 2020 tells us that the age group that plays the most minutes in our elite men’s competition (the A-League) is the age of 32. We are not giving enough opportunities for our players under 23. We also have challenges with our football pyramid, we must reconnect our pyramid so we can unleash this potential of an ecosystem.”

Since Johnson was appointed as CEO early last year, the governing body has shifted their business model allowing them to deliver strategic priorities and focus on initiatives such as: the implementation of the domestic match calendar, the proposed introduction of a domestic transfer system, a half slot to the ACL for the FFA Cup winner and more. Johnson believes factors such as these are vital to reconnecting Australian football’s national pyramid.

In his speech at the Community in Business event, the former senior executive at the AFC, FIFA and the City Football Group also strongly emphasised the importance of recognising the game’s history properly, something the game has continued to neglect in previous years.

“We have a rich history and it must be celebrated,” he said.

“There are moments in our game, that not only shaped the game, but they shaped the way that our country is. In 1974, we sent our first men’s team to the World Cup led by Rale, in 1993 Maradona came here, in 1997 Iran broke our hearts, in 2005 a famous penalty got us to our first World Cup in many decades and in 2020 we won the rights to host the Women’s World Cup.

“Our game is full of these moments and I think if you all think about those moments, people will remember where they were when they occurred. We forget that our clubs in this country predated federation. We forget that football was the first sport in Australia to have a national competition in the 70’s. We forget the first cup competition in this country was in the 60’s, the Australia Cup.

“We forget that women played football in this country as early as 1909. Nearly 42 years ago, our very first Matildas stepped out onto Seymour Shaw Park for the first Matildas match. Now, we are only a few years away from the biggest sporting event for women in the world coming to our shores.

“We forget that 99 years ago our Socceroos played their first match against New Zealand. We are one year away from 100 years.

“We forget the role that football played in the lives of indigenous children, like John Moriarty, Jade North and Kyah Simon.

“We forget that our national competitions have always been the hallmark of our game. The NSL for many, many years. Our history provides us with platforms to move forward to and to launch a bold, exciting future for our sport.”

Johnson addresses the audience at Football Victoria’s CIB event

Johnson sees the Women’s World Cup in 2023 on home soil as the perfect avenue to establish a strong future for the game.

“We are focused on creating that link between our national teams, in particular the Matildas and our community,” he said.

“Our base of 2 million participants is great, but only 22% per cent of our base are women and girls. There is a direct link between the importance and relevance of national teams and the base of community. With our national teams starting up again, you will see over the next 3 years (particularly with the Women’s World Cup) that our base will grow further and it will grow well.

Our ‘Legacy 23’ framework is an ambitious plan to maximise the opportunities that the legacy of the Women’s World Cup (WWC) will provide us. Legacy is not something that starts after the WWC, it started last month. We’ve got to try as best as possible to ensure the WWC has a long-lasting legacy, similar to what happened with the Sydney Olympics in 2000.”

The FA CEO concluded by calling on every single stakeholder to be open to change, including the governing body itself, and push forward to make the sport the best it can be.

“If we are to reach the potential of our game, each and every one of us, every stakeholder, Football Australia, Member Federations, clubs, leagues, our community need to be open to change,” he said.

“Change and innovation are the commodities that we must deal with in 2021. I’m under no illusions that Football Australia must continue to earn the trust and confidence back from our stakeholders and community. To do this, we need deeds not just words.

“Let’s seize this opportunity and put our best foot forward.”

Philip Panas is a sports journalist with Soccerscene. He reports widely on football policy and industry matters, drawing on his knowledge and passion of the game.

Coopers Stadium upgrades progressing smoothly

Adelaide United's Coopers Stadium upgrades are running as planned as it receives improvements to prepare for the 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup.

Adelaide United’s Coopers Stadium upgrades are running as planned as it receives back-of-house improvements to prepare for the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup.

Back in August 2021, the club announced that the stadium would receive a massive $53 million upgrade in conjunction with Adelaide Venue Management and the South Australia Government.

The upgrade was announced to significantly improve training and playing environments, as well as upgrades inside the stadium to many different facilities. An increase in stadium capacity was not involved in the plans.

Adelaide United CEO Nathan Kosmina spoke to Box2Box to give a further insight into the stadium upgrades.

“The renovations are ongoing at the moment, the bulk upgrades are happening as we speak and we expect most to be complete post A-League season. However some renovations won’t be complete until after the Women’s World Cup,” he said.

Coopers Stadium (formally Hindmarsh) has been the heart and soul of soccer in South Australia since the 1960’s, and although it doesn’t resemble what it was back then, Kosmina reflected on a traditional home for football in the state.

“It’s been the home of SA football since the 60’s, it doesn’t resemble now what it was back then but its still the same block of land that it always has been so its got a lot of history and culture,” he said.

The stadium has been home to many different sporting events and organisations for over 60 years, and has hosted NSL finals, Socceroos matches, Rugby Union and Rugby League.

Coopers was also used for the 2000 Olympics where it recorded it’s largest ever attendance of 18,340, when Italy drew 1-1 with Nigeria in a group stage match.

One of the main concerns for the stadium was making sure the atmosphere inside the venue remained as intimate as possible post-renovation, to ensure the best possible fan experience for all that will attend.

“We were heavily involved in the planning and what Coopers will look like in the future and our priority is to keep that intimate atmosphere,” Kosmina stated.

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“One of the challenges is that part of the stadium is bordered by roads, almost underneath the stands and even near a church. So in terms of increasing the size of the stadium, that was never on the radar.

“What we will see in the next 12 months is a lot of back-of-house upgrades, and the change rooms have been done which has really been first priority considering we have a lot of A-League Women’s games here.

Whilst some renovations won’t be complete until after the Women’s World Cup in 2023, what will be ready is a wide variety of new stadium features that Kosmina is hoping will have a positive impact on fan and media experience.

He stated that the stand on the eastern side of Coopers will be getting one of the biggest upgrades, which includes new audio, new LED, new big TV screens, new media facilities and new food and beverage facilities.

When it comes to something such as unveiling the upgrades to the public, it won’t be too noticeable or impressive to the eye, however the process of the redevelopment is mainly designed to thoroughly improve fan experience for upcoming international events.

“This is an upgrade that has been 20 years in the making, the stadium hasn’t bee improved since the 2000 Olympics,” Kosmina said.

“After the renovations are complete, I’m sure Coopers Stadium will still be a lot of peoples favourite stadium to attend in the country for A-Leagues, the only difference is that its just being brought into the 21st century.

“Next year we should have what feels like a new venue to play at.”

You can listen to more of what Nathan Kosmina had to say on the most recent Box2Box podcast episode here.

FIFA’s commercial partnership structure unlocks opportunities

FIFA has introduced a new commercial partnership structure that will provide companies worldwide with increased opportunities to partner with soccer.

For the first time in eight years, FIFA has introduced a new commercial partnership structure that will provide companies worldwide with increased opportunities to partner with soccer.

Three partnership variables have been launched which include women’s football, men’s football and Esports/gaming. As a starting point, brands will now be able to negotiate dedicated partnerships with women’s football and Esports.

FIFA are building on their Women’s Football strategy implemented from 2018, by launching a dedicated women’s soccer commercial vertical to show their commitment to making soccer more accessible for women and girls across the globe. Their main aim from this vertical is to accelerate the growth and equality of the women’s game.

As for opportunities that provides for Australia, it could be a key driver for broadening the business side in women’s soccer, as well as the ever-growing Esports.

FIFA Chief Women’s Football Officer, Sarai Bareman:

“This marks a groundbreaking moment to maximise the growth of the women’s game and its marketing appeal, as we create equal commercial models across Women’s and Men’s Football for the first time,” she said.

“We’re excited about the opportunities for brands who want to support women’s sport, help accelerate women’s equality, and wish to align themselves with the unparalleled momentum around women’s football.”

A dedicated partnerships structure for Esports will allow FIFA to further broaden its gaming footprint. The structure provides exciting opportunities to participate in one of the world’s fastest growing markets.

Overall, FIFA’s new partnership structure includes the following:

  • All partners will receive extensive global commercial rights across national team tournaments.
  • Sponsors will receive global activation rights surrounding the FIFA Women’s World Cup, the FIFA World Cup and/or across all FIFAe competitions.
  • Tournament Supporters will be able to select territorial activation rights for any of the above listed tournaments.
  • FIFA partners continue to hold the highest level of association with global partner status and category exclusivity across competitions.
  • FIFA’s new commercial approach will enable brands to benefit from new opportunities to associate with FIFA’s brand for business-driven purposes

FIFA Chief Commercial Officer, Kay Madati, on the impact these changes will make:

“As we continually work to make football truly global, accessible and inclusive, we recognised the need for a nimble and customisable commercial structure that enables brands big and small, global and local, to connect with all aspects of the beautiful game,” he said.

“The new model will allow our partners to create more tailored programming and marketing activations that align directly with their strategic business goals, and connect them to the world’s most passionate fans, in the world’s most engaging sport.”

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