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How KEEPUP will revolutionise football in Australia
Late last week, the Australian Professional Leagues (APL) launched their new $30 million digital platform KEEPUP.
The main aim of the new digital hub is to convert a larger proportion of the 8 million football fans in this country into supporters of Australia’s premier domestic competitions.
“The platform was delivered to broaden and enhance the fan experience, connecting A-Leagues fans and international competition fans in one place,” a statement from the APL read.
“In its current form, the platform will focus on creating and curating content to bring fans close to the game however they choose, with significant expansion planned into the future.
“KEEPUP will feature compelling content from the best of the A-Leagues, European and world football, the Socceroos and Matildas, NPL, and FFA Cup.
“A-League clubs’ content hubs will also be integrated onto the platform to ensure fans are offered the most comprehensive football resource available in Australia.”
KEEPUP, across their website and app, have already begun producing a wide array of content from breaking news stories, expert columns from football journalists, articles on football culture, video productions and in-depth analysis features, not just on the A-League, but world football.
The KEEPUP team is led by Optus’ former director of sport Richard Bayliss, who is in charge of the editorial, social media and production practices across the platform.
KEEPUP will have a strong impetus on keeping editorial independence and not cheerlead for the APL and its clubs at every opportunity.
“Day one of the launch we had two A-League CEOs complaining about criticism on our platform, this is all about being authentic and you can’t have a propaganda site,” APL Managing Director, Danny Townsend, told the Sydney Morning Herald.
“Football fans are extremely discerning and the minute they see something that is not authentic…they’ll call that out.”
Alongside the diverse content on the platform, KEEPUP will look to innovate in ways which will engage new audiences and provide those they already have connected with, with unique experiences.
“This is just the beginning,” Chief Commercial Officer at the APL, Ant Hearne, said.
“We have a bold plan to evolve KEEPUP into an unparalleled global digital hub, expanding functionality beyond a content base to include gamification, e-Commerce, ticketing, second screen live stadium experiences and loyalty programs.”
Other codes in Australia such as Cricket, AFL and NRL have all invested heavily in their own digital content over time, however the $30 million digital investment from the APL is playing to the strategic advantages that football has over other sports.
“I look at what the other sports are doing and they’re very much wed, fortunately, to TV deals that mean they don’t need to do what we’re doing,” Townsend told the SMH.
“We’re in a situation where we’ve got an enormous base, we’ve got the youngest fan base of any sport in the country who are all digital natives. We’re going to get into the direct-to-consumer business and that will preserve the long-term revenues and build the football economy.”
This offer is a slice of things to come between the APL and their new broadcast partner ViacomCBS, with future plans for content from the digital platform to be integrated further into the Channel 10 Network and Paramount+.
“What Channel 10 and ViacomCBS bought into was our strategy,” Townsend told the SMH.
“The ViacomCBS deal was a really critical one for us on many levels financially, but equally the reach it delivers us. But importantly, the owners have continued to invest and put their money where their mouth is.
“The sports media and commercial landscape is changing and the days of sports just serving up content on television, taking a big cheque and playing sport are over. It’s changing in a way that requires sports to take the initiative and connect with their fans.
“We’ve got to become an entertainment business because at the end of the day, if we’re going to grow revenues of the sport, we need to engage our fans more effectively.”
The APL’s KEEPUP platform has only been around for just over a week, but its long-term agenda has the potential to change the perception of the game in this country.
The sixth annual Indigenous Football Week 2021 (IFW21) will be held on November 22 to 27. A week-long program of events will shine a spotlight on the power of football to unlock the potential of Indigenous girls and women and improve gender equality, from grassroots to elite.
IFW21 is a John Moriarty Football (JMF) initiative in partnership with Australian Professional Leagues (A-League), Professional Footballers Australia (PFA), Football Coaches Australia (FCA), SBS, NITV, and FOX Sports.
The week will see some of football’s best take a deep dive into gender equality issues of women in football leadership and specific intersectional challenges and opportunities in football for Indigenous girls and women.
Events for IFW21 will include community gala days across JMF hubs in NT, Queensland and NSW, a Facebook Live interview series, an expert online panel, an online workshop for young female footballers throughout the country, and special announcements across the week.
IFW21 will feature a line-up of top Australian football experts, identities and IFW21 Ambassadors, including:
Marra woman Shadeene (Shay) Evans – IFW21 Ambassador, JMF Inaugural Scholar, Young Matilda and Adelaide United A-League Women player
Yorta Yorta/Wiradjuri woman Jada Whyman – IFW21 Ambassador, JMF Scholarship Mentor, Matilda and Sydney FC A-League Women player
Wiradjuri woman Tiffany Stanley – IFW21 Ambassador and JMF Dubbo Community Coach
Wurumungu man Patrick Coleman – IFW21 Ambassador and JMF Tennant Creek Community Coach
Kanulu/Gangulu woman Allira Toby – Canberra United A-League Women player
Craig Foster AM – former Socceroo, football analyst, JMF Board Member and human rights activist
Tal Karp – Olympian, former Matilda and former Melbourne Victory Women captain
Kathryn Gill – Former Matildas Captain and Co-CEO of Professional Footballers Association
Glenn Warry – CEO of Football Coaches Australia
Leah Blayney – Head Coach of the Future Matildas and Young Matildas
John Moriarty AM, Co-Founder and Co-Chair of JMF and the first Indigenous footballer selected for Australia, said:
“Indigenous Football Week is about the power of football to create change for good. It is a chance to bring the football community together to support inclusion, cultural recognition and diversity.”
“Women’s and girl’s football is the fastest growing area of Australian football and we are certainly seeing this in JMF.
“JMF is committed to taking a leadership role on gender equality. Currently, 50 percent of our participants are girls, 40 percent of our coaches are female, 75 percent of our board are women, and we are always striving for improvement and creating best practice for gender and social equality in football.”
Outgoing inaugural FA Women’s Football Council Chair and Co-Chair of JMF, Ros Moriarty said:
“Over the past months we’ve undertaken a significant gender equality project to build on our own organisation’s best practice when it comes to diversity, equality and inclusion. The entire JMF team has collaborated on this project. We commissioned former Matilda, Olympian and leading sport and innovation strategy expert, Tal Karp, to help us create diversity tools and commitments that will be embedded into business as usual at JMF.”
Based on a three-level approach, JMF is implementing:
A holistic training and development program to fast track more women into leadership.
Flexible, safe and supportive work environments to drive equal opportunity for mothers.
Awareness and culturally safe channels for proactive gender equality communications and respect.
According to Football Coaches Australia, only three percent of all accredited female football coaches have obtained a C Licence or above. IFW21 Ambassador and JMF Dubbo Community Coach and Wiradjuri woman, Tiffany Stanley, is among a very small cohort of Indigenous female football coaches to obtain a C Licence.
“Being a female player and coach, I see how differently women in football get treated. I believe it is time we come together as a nation to find better solutions to support women in the game and become leaders and role models for our upcoming generations,” Ms Stanley said.
PFA Co-Chief Executive Kathryn Gill said the PFA remains a proud partner of JMF and Indigenous Football Week.
“Indigenous players have made a rich contribution to our sport, from Charlie Perkins to John Moriarty and Karen Menzies. However, there remains much more to be done to better engage and increase access for Indigenous communities to our beautiful game,” she said.
“We now have many visible Indigenous role models, from Tate Russell to Lydia Williams and Jada Whyman, and by identifying intersectional barriers and solutions, we will hopefully ensure our game’s structures encourage more stars to emerge from communities into the A-Leagues and National Teams.”
IFW21 partner Football Coaches Australia CEO Glenn Warry says it is imperative that we build a world-class coaching culture within Australia to be more inclusive of all coaches developing and progressing their coaching careers within community and elite football environments.
“Football Coaches Australia is extremely proud to partner with John Moriarty Football to celebrate Indigenous Football Week 2021 (IFW21), 22-27 November, and its theme of ‘gender equality in football’,” he said.
“Since its inception FCA’s values, policies, strategies and programs have demonstrated that our Association fully supports working with the football community and stakeholders to support inclusion, cultural recognition and diversity. Indigenous coaching role models and ‘heroes’ such as Tanya Oxtoby, provide a career pathway goal for our upcoming JMF women coaching stars of the future.”
The A-Leagues celebrates IFW21 and is a proud partner of JMF. A-Leagues Managing Director Danny Townsend commented:
“Football is the most inclusive sport, with the most diverse fanbase in Australia and we are committed to providing culturally safe and inclusive Leagues for our professional footballers. Representation of Indigenous communities in football is increasing, from grassroots to the A-Leagues, and we fully support programs and activities that increase engagement and access for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.”
“We celebrate the Indigenous A-League / women footballers who are emerging as the future stars of our Leagues, including the IFW21 Ambassadors, and we remain committed to creating, supporting and increasing player pathways for First Nations women to the A-Leagues.”
As CEO of historic Australian footballing side Sydney Olympic, John Boulous has experienced first-hand the passion and dedication that is engrained in these traditional clubs.
Having spent time at the then-named Football Federation Australia and Football Federation Tasmania, Boulous’ intimate exposure to football across the professional and semi-professional tiers has been vast.
Boulous sat down with Soccerscene to speak about leading Sydney Olympic through successive lockdowns, the importance of connecting the professional and semi-professional tiers in Australian football, and Olympic’s upcoming Round of 32 FFA Cup clash against A-League Men’s powerhouse Sydney FC.
With promises of souvlaki at the ground on gameday enough to attract any ardent football fan or person in general, Boulous is looking forward to experiencing the festival atmosphere that Olympic’s clash against Sydney FC will undoubtedly bring.
Just to start off, are you able to provide some insight into your own footballing background and what’s led you to where you are now as the CEO of such an iconic side in Sydney Olympic?
John Boulous: I’ve been in sport since I started my working life. I worked my way through cricket and from there I went to Football Australia, which is where I was for five years from 2005 to 2010. I then left for a position as CEO at Football Federation Tasmania with my family for over three years.
From there, after a stint in Rugby League, I met Damon Hanlin, who had just become a Director at Sydney Olympic and the opportunity came up to undertake the CEO role at Sydney Olympic. Obviously, as a club at NPL level, it was a really good opportunity to get back involved and work with someone like Damon who was committed to taking the club forward.
Obviously, Sydney Olympic are a historically successful and well-supported footballing side, what’s it been like leading the club over the last few seasons?
John Boulous: What you always hear about working in these types of traditional, iconic clubs that were NSL powerhouses and are now in the NPL environment is that they had to find their identity as clubs in that transition period.
Your identity potentially changes slightly in that you want to have a strong and thriving pathway for young players to come through. But you’ve got to realise that they’re going to come to your club and potentially move on.
When you’re at Football Australia you hear of these clubs, but you don’t actually realise the passion, and the involvement, and the excitement that’s in the fans of these clubs until you actually get here. And we’ve got a very strong following and lots of numbers in terms of supporters, and the crowds don’t really reflect that until you get a big game.
The best example of that was when we played APIA Leichardt in the NPL Grand Final in 2018. All of a sudden people saw that Olympic is strong, and there are people that support them. They may not turn up for the games week-in week-out, but they support and they follow, and I think that’s important.
What has it been like for you steering Sydney Olympic through successive extensive lockdowns in NSW?
John Boulous: There was constant change, but we’re not the only industry that’s been affected. There’s lots of people that are struggling. Football is something that gives everyone a bit of hope; it gives everyone a sense of enjoyment and a weekend activity to spend with your family. And I think people miss that.
Now you’re seeing the excitement building with kids being back to training and an FFA Cup game to come – you can feel a bit of a buzz. Because people are just looking to get back into the football environment. And if our club can play some part in that then I think it’s a really good thing to get the community back.
What do you believe makes Australian football unique in comparison with football around the world? Do you believe its found its identity yet?
John Boulous: I think it’s finding its identity. The one thing that stands out when you see footage of the NSL days is the passion in the crowds. And that’s been built up in clubs over 50 to 60 years and that passion doesn’t just happen overnight.
You see A-League teams are now starting to get it. Their fans are starting to identify with the club, you’ve got generations that are born as supporters. At Olympic and other clubs like ours, you’ve got grandfathers and sons that grew up following Olympic. Here you’ve got kids that are starting to follow A-Leagues clubs and in turn their kids will do the same.
It takes a while to build that momentum up, but I think it’s there. I think Australia is very unique because you’ve got three or four dominant sporting codes that are vying for interest and support. Not a lot of countries where football is their leading sport have those sorts of issues to deal with.
As well as that, the best players are encouraged to go overseas as well. So, our leagues tend to be up-and-coming players and players that are coming back. And that’s okay too, that’s where our game’s at. In saying that, there are lots of young players that are looking for professional opportunities and if our game can facilitate more of those players getting an opportunity, then I think we’re doing the right thing.
As someone with an intimate understanding of the day-to-day challenges of running an NPL club, what do you believe are the next steps to ensure the growth of the NPL across Australia?
John Boulous: I think the next steps are certainly some kind of National Second Division with a greater national presence or footprint than what we currently have. There are clubs that play and participate within NPL competitions and that’s where they want to be, and that’s a very good place to be. There’s also clubs that still have a burning desire and supporters that want to see them play higher.
Certainly, in the short-term, there is definitely an opportunity for a second tier in whatever format that turns out to be. There are clubs that are interested and there’s lots of clubs with good pathways, structures and infrastructure in place to be able to take that step. It won’t be for everyone but it will be for the ones that aspire to do it. And I think that’s logically the next step.
The growth of the FFA Cup is important. Anything that links A-League with semi-professional football is essential. I think the link between the semi-professional level and the community is good and strong because people know where the pathways exist. But I believe that anything that continues to unite the game from the professional to the semi-professional level is a good step.
Australian football is experiencing a significant shift at the moment towards ensuring alignment across the whole game. Where do you see Sydney Olympic fitting into these prospective plans for a National Second Division?
John Boulous: We’re definitely interested. But you need to see what model exists and if its viable first. We have the interest and desire firstly which is important, but there’s many things that come with it.
I think what’s important for us – with having such a strong tradition and background with football in Australia – is we should be aspiring to be in whatever that era of football is.
Each season we’ve seen National Premier League sides from across Australia competing against and pushing A-League teams outside of their comfort zones. Why do you feel the FFA Cup competition is so important for Australian football?
John Boulous: We are a big club, with a strong following and tradition in Australian football, and are still recognised nationally. In matches like this, Australians like to see underdogs – they like to see both the experienced and younger kids in our squad get that opportunity.
I think what’s important as a club is we need to give them that opportunity. You need to play against the best players in Australia. If you do that well, all of a sudden you’re on the radar.
You can’t take that desire away from players. They need to have that burn to be able to know if they can get to that next level. And these opportunities give you the perfect platform to do that.
The FFA Cup game against Sydney FC presents a brilliant opportunity for both clubs to come together for a truly special night of football. What’s the build-up been like leading up to the match?
John Boulous: We hope to be able to get a strong crowd here at Belmore. And it will be Olympic supporters and Sydney FC supporters, but we hope that it will be football supporters. Because people have been starved of opportunities to go and watch football matches, and now, they have the opportunity.
We’ve got a ground that can hold a really strong and big crowd in today’s climate. And I think that’s important to get people here and back into football. People here want to see it.
The A-League will be back in full swing and our boys will be training for four to five weeks and that’s okay too. Because they’ve got desire and they’re keen to have this match.
We’re always asked by Football Australia if we want to play this match and our answer from the very start was yes. Regardless of where teams are at in their preparation and their season, our players are very keen to play not just against the best players, but for their club and our supporters.
Tickets for Sydney Olympic’s clash with Sydney FC can be accessed HERE.