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Football has invested considerably in VAR and fans had better get used to it

Rarely a weekend of football goes by these days without a monumental kerfuffle around everyone’s favourite technological official VAR.

The weekend just passed saw Liverpool FC the beneficiary against Manchester City, when a supposedly qualified and experienced referee waved play on despite the ball appearing to strike the Red’s Trent Alexander-Arnold’s arm whilst defending in his own area.

The mysterious individuals in control of the VAR system reviewed the incident. They confirmed the on-field officials’ version of events and before City fans could hit the keyboard to let rip at the most hated aspect of modern football, Liverpool had scored at the other end.

If it wasn’t so serious, it would be comical.

Was it an important decision? Of course it was. Did it alter the outcome of the match? Who knows? What is certain is the fact that governing bodies appear to be backing the technology and their investment in it, at the expense of the integrity of the game.

The official explanation from Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL) read as follows.

“The VAR checked the penalty appeal for handball against Trent Alexander-Arnold and confirmed the on-field decision that it did not meet the considerations for a deliberate handball.”  

Whilst it is always comforting for fans to receive open and transparent responses from the powers at be, this particular example borders on the absurd. Alexander-Arnold’s arm is in the most unusual of positions. In fact, try walking down the street with your arm held out in the manner in which his was and you will receive some very odd looks.

The PGMOL may wish to placate disgruntled fans with a united front that aims to quell discussion, however only the gullible will be falling for their lip service. The unnerving reality remains that the events that played out soon after kick off at Anfield on Sunday afternoon would have led to a penalty on every other day.

On this occasion, a blunder was made. Another referee, at another ground, in another country and in another league, may well have awarded the spot kick. Just a fortnight ago, Louis Fenton of the Wellington Phoenix was adjudged to have hand balled in the area and the referee pointed directly to the penalty spot.

Wellington play in the A-League, Australia’s top tier of professional football. Fenton appeased his team mates immediately, suggesting that once the footage was viewed by VAR, the decision would be reversed, as the ball had made clear contact with his chest before glancing the arm.

Whilst the footage supported Fenton’s version of events, once again, the decision stood and the player proceeded to use some rather blue and poorly chosen words in his post-game interview.

The facial expressions of those sitting on the Phoenix bench said it all, as did Pep Guardiola’s rather comical hand shaking of the officials at the completion of Liverpool’s 3-1 victory over the English champions.

Both reactions lie at the core of the issue when it comes to VAR; the perception that it is a farce and has the potential to harm football from within.

Contentious handball decisions have always brought much debate and conjecture in the game. Yet the inconsistent application of the rules that exists when the extra layer of officialdom is called upon does nothing more than breed distrust in the fans and potential illegitimacy in results.

When the Hawkeye technology currently being used in the Premier League to rule on-offside play is added to the mix, it is little wonder fans are roaring their anger from the rooftops.

It is not just the furious, one eyed supporter calling for change, despite many feeling as though their club has indeed felt the wrath of VAR. Respected players, commentators and pundits right across the globe have had enough of the trivialities of off-sides being awarded based on what appear to be the most minute of margins.

They have grown tired of incidents being reviewed for sometimes up to three or four minutes before a decision is confirmed and, like all of us, are completely bamboozled by many of the adjudications made.

Whilst it is easy for the official post-game statement to be drafted in such a way as to artificially confirm the decisions made by on-field officials, the footballing world sees well through that façade.

What chance a governing body concedes a little ground, admits to an over reliance on technology and shows the courage to downsize its role in the game? Very little I would say and that could be a dangerous path to tread.

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Stuart Thomas is a trusted Journalist with Soccerscene. He reports widely on macro policy within Australasia and industry disruptions.

ADI a driving force in LED production

LED screens featuring team banners or advertising have been common in stadiums for several years, becoming a staple for professional teams and leagues.  

New technology has grown in leaps and bounds – over a decade ago we were introduced to live matches in HD and have seen increased coverage overall. 

The idea of featuring LED technology in stadiums is something we’ve become accustomed to, as a new level of interaction and engagement has been achieved for the audiences of clubs and venues. 

ADI has been a provider of stadium screen and digital displays for clubs across the UK, venturing to the fourth tier of English football, League Two. As innovations become bigger and powerful, more professional clubs will be keen to find out what that could mean for them. 

As a company, ADI want to be flexible in what they can offer clubs and organisations. 

“Club’s mindsets are changing. It’s no longer a question of whether they can afford LED technology – it’s about thinking how it can be used to drive revenue,” ADI CEO Geraint Williams said. 

“We’re in an age where fans and brands demand more. Fans want a better experience and brands want better value. 

“Failure to deliver is a huge risk for future growth. There are others in the market who simply install a screen or perimeter LED display and walk away without helping clubs understand how to maximise its value. 

“We’re not that kind of supplier. We very much see ourselves as an extension to a club’s commercial team. Increasingly, we’re working with clubs of all sizes to create new models that increase partner revenue over a long-term basis.” 

ADI offers innovation in stadium hardware and as a content producer, to provide clubs with a valuable revenue generation pathway. 

“Revenue Based Design is a term borrowed from the architecture industry. It’s about engineering something in such a way that maximises the revenue derived from it,” Williams said. 

“In architecture, the theory is applied to buildings and spaces, but the same principle works in designing commercial stadium platforms.  

“Our technical and creative teams work hand in hand to create high impact digital platforms that add value to the matchday experience, whilst maximising the revenue potential of the investment. 

ADI have worked hard over the years to be the frontier of LED technology and a major player for clubs trying to find some extra revenue. They’ve been ever-present for teams in the English football pyramid, including Middlesbrough who currently play in the EFL Championship. 

“ADI completely changed the way we thought about the commercialisation of LED technology,” Middlesbrough Chief Operating Officer Mark Ellis said. 

“We invested in a new perimeter LED system over three years ago. As a Championship club we had to completely rethink the model in order to make it commercially viable. 

“ADI helped us to do that – designing a model that delivered incredible results – a 47% increase in partnership revenue and a 16% profit rise. 

“It’s been so successful we’ve since extended the digital stadium platform with ADI’s help.” 

ADI have not just limited themselves to the UK, but they’ve notably contributed for Germany’s top-flight Bundesliga with virtual advertising hardware.  

A ‘Virtual Hybrid’ can deliver different brand adverts into relevant viewing territories by virtually changing the LED content on screen. This means that clubs and venues have more control over what they want their audiences to engage with. Lagardere Sports, German football’s biggest media rights holder, have deployed this for a few seasons and are able to revolutise the way communications are run on a global scale. 

A move into Germany is just the start of ADI’s ambition. They’ve been servicing customers in offices from five continents overall, including France, South Africa and Ireland, as well as the aforementioned UK and Germany. 

There are ADI franchises in South Africa, Northern Africa and right here in Australia, boasting a vast network across the globe. The ADI brand is still growing, with the company open to adding further partners around the world. 

With COVID-19 posing issues for some clubs and organisations, using LED technology and interacting with audiences has become essential in broadcasts, both for club marketing communications and brand or advertising exposure that affect the success of revenue stream. 

You can find out more about how ADI can benefit your club or venue here. 

FA reveal 2021 Domestic Match Calendar

The FFA and PFA have today come to terms on a revised Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) for Socceroos and Matildas players.

Football Australia have released their 2021 Australian Football Domestic Match Calendar (DMC).

The key features of the 2021 Australian Football DMC include registration periods for Australia’s professional competitions, national team activity windows, A-League and W-League competition windows, final round match dates for the FFA Cup, as well as a standalone spot for the Festival of Football Week, which is set to be introduced in connection with the 2021 FFA Cup Final.

FA CEO James Johnson believes 2021 will be a year of transition towards a completely unified approach for Australian football.

“Flowing on from the unbundling of the Professional Leagues from Football Australia, an important regulatory function for Football Australia as the game’s Governing Body is to set the Domestic Match Calendar in order to lead the realignment of Australia’s football competitions and connect the football pyramid both domestically and globally,” Johnson said.

“The release of the 2021 DMC to football stakeholders, and to the public, is an important step in that process, and we expect to achieve even greater alignment in 2022 as COVID-19 eases and we apply key learnings and insights from 2021.

“Australia’s Domestic Match Calendar will play a vital role in Football Australia’s proposed new and modern transfer system by articulating domestic Transfer Windows which will provide opportunities to progressive clubs at all levels of the sport to conduct player transfer business and generate new revenue streams which can be deployed into the ongoing training and development of players, and the clubs themselves.

“The Domestic Match Calendar will also be fundamental to bringing to life numerous measures proposed in the XI Principles, which in turn supports our bold and exciting new strategic direction for Australian football. The DMC will aid the optimisation of competitions across all levels of the game, help us to reimagine the player pathway, help to increase match minutes for players both in club football and with our national teams, and support football as a sport which is played all year round,” he said.

The 2021 Australian Football Domestic Match Calendar can be viewed here.

Australian Professional Leagues welcome two new executives

The Australian Professional Leagues (APL) have announced Ant Hearne and Michael Tange as their two new executives.

The Australian Professional Leagues (APL) have announced Ant Hearne and Michael Tange as their two new executives.

Ant Hearne joins as Chief Commercial Officer (CCO) of APL, to set up and lead all commercial activities – involving user experience, marketing, content, sponsorships, rights negotiations and other revenue opportunities. He comes across from Foxtel’s streaming division, Streamotion, as CCO of Kayo, BINGE, WatchAFL and WatchNRL which has seen significant growth in recent years. His career in Australia, Asia and the US focuses on senior marketing and commercial roles in telco, digital media, marketing tech and sports entertainment.

“Football represents the biggest growth opportunity in Australian sport – we’ve got twice as many participants as any other game in this country, we’re leaders in women’s sport (with all eyes on the game in the lead up to the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup), and key to our future growth is the fact that we have the youngest and most diverse fans of any sport,” Hearne said.

“It’s now time to deliver commercial outcomes that will fuel the sustainable growth of the game. Our teams are playing exciting, fast-paced, uncompromising football in front of the most passionate fans and it’s the APL’s mission is to take that direct-to-consumer in order to unlock the power of the fan and ultimately grow the whole game. It’s going to be an exciting ride.”

Michael Tange joins as Strategy and Digital Director, following 15 years working in global roles with sports, data and technology companies. He will lead the strategy, digital development and media rights for APL. He arrives from Nielsen Sports in New York where he spent a decade working on commercial strategy, broadcast, digital and fan development with leading sporting codes such as the NBA, NFL, MLB, PGA TOUR and Major League Soccer.

APL Commissioner Greg O’Rourke continues to lead the operational side of the business in conjunction with Deputy Commissioner Tracey Scott. She joins APL after six years with Football Australia in various leadership roles, most recently as General Manager (GM) of Leagues. She is also an Appointed Member of FIFA’s Professional Women’s Football taskforce.

Since the unbundling of the four professional leagues from Football Australia on December 31, these are the first official APL appointments.

“With full ownership of the four leagues, we have an ambitious vision for the growth of the game at every level,” Chair of APL Paul Lederer said.

“The new, expanded executive team have been tasked with unleashing the APL’s commercial and entrepreneurial capabilities, and we now have a structure that will enable them to deliver the right outcomes for all of Australian football.”

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