For Stephen Conroy and the Australian Professional Leagues (APL), it has been a time of significant change.
In his new role as Independent Chair, Conroy has recently seen the departure of former Chief Executive Officer Danny Townsend, leaving A-Leagues Commissioner Nick Garcia and KEEPUP Managing Director James Rushton to lead the APL.
Ahead of launching the 2023/24 A-Leagues season, it has proved to be a very busy period for the APL in amongst the CEO change – with the reversal of the Grand Final decision, announcing the brand-new U-Nite Round to take place in Sydney, confirming the sale of Perth Glory and identifying the preferred bidder for the Auckland licence.
After bidding farewell to the APL’s inaugural CEO, the focus has shifted to restoring faith in the A-Leagues fanbase – as the men’s and women’s World Cups need to be the kick-starter for football in Australia.
Speaking at Melbourne Victory’s Chairman function at AAMI Park before the Round 2 match against Newcastle Jets, Conroy reflected on a whirlwind period for the APL and football as a whole.
“It’s an exciting time coming off the back of the exceptional performance of the Matildas,” Conroy said.
“The standalone women’s round for the Liberty A-League was hugely positive with the record crowd and atmosphere we saw at the Sydney Derby.
“You’re seeing the enthusiasm with 1.6 million Australians and two million New Zealanders watching the two respective nations play.
“In funny because people almost forget the Socceroos and how well they did at Qatar – we talk about 2006 and the Golden Generation, but genuinely the performance in this tournament was absolutely stunning.”
The record attendances and memberships have been a huge plus for Conroy and the APL, particularly for women’s teams with numbers reaching unprecedented levels.
“As an example we’ve already seen Melbourne Victory go past 20,000 for memberships, so that’s a huge tick,” he said.
“With record turnouts and memberships, we are getting the sense that it is really happening now for people around the country in football.
“There’s so much in front of us at the moment.”
An integral part of the APL has been KEEPUP, which has recently undergone a revamp to split A-Leagues content into its own site.
Conroy outlined the digital strategies behind KEEPUP which has been a major inclusion since the APL’s inception.
“KEEPUP was launched when we unbundled from Football Australia – recently people might have been wondering why the app has morphed back into A-Leagues,” he said.
“In the rush to unbundle, we didn’t own the rights to call it the A-League app, but now we’ve got that sorted.
“What we will now start to see is a more rich product and this turns eyeballs into bums on seats or viewing on TV.
“KEEPUP’s mission is to drive people to watch the game at the ground, through free to air or streaming.”
Conroy also linked back to the numbers we saw from the Women’s World Cup, and how that will be a motivator for future growth of the A-Leagues.
“For all of us that went to any of the World Cup matches, part of it was needing to download the FIFA app,” he said.
“As we saw earlier, there’s 1.6 million Australians who want to watch a game of football – so we’ll be sitting down with Football Australia to work out how to succeed together.
“What we want to see is which team people want to support, get them to more games in-person and turn more casual fans into fully-fledged members.”