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How the APL hopes to take Australian football to the next level

Last week the Australian Professional Leagues (APL) revealed a key strategic move for professional football in Australia, collectively rebranding the men’s, women’s and youth leagues, with all of them now falling under the ‘A-Leagues’ moniker.

The recent revelations are set to be the start of a host of other strategic priorities which look to revitalise the professional game in Australia, in the coming months.

Speaking to Football Nation Radio (FNR), APL Managing Director Danny Townsend outlined the organisation’s viewpoint on the need to revamp attitudes within the game, particularly when it came to equality for female athletes.

“I think where the naming convention change came from was that we sat back and looked at what was the genesis of the naming of the A-League,” he said.

“Where did it come from, what did it mean and what did it stand for? The information we got was the ‘A’ stood for Australia, it stood for ‘A’ quality, it was the ‘A’ elite competition for football in Australia, which all made sense.

“Then we looked into the genesis of the W-League and where that name came from, and it was a real short bit of work, it was ‘W’ stands for woman.

“So, we thought, if the ‘A’ in the A-League stands for all those wonderful things, why are those things only attached to the men’s game and not the women’s game. We felt we needed to change the brand architecture of the sport to elevate the women’s game…you need young aspiring female athletes to feel that they are part of a football movement that puts the same value on their football as their male counterparts.”

Whilst name changes are easy to do, actions ultimately matter, and when it comes to the women’s side of the game the APL has recently announced the introduction of three more A-League Women’s teams by 2023.

It’s a good show of commitment to the women’s game, with an extended season also part of the APL’s future plans, when financially viable.

On the topic of finances, a huge factor which has helped secure the future of the professional game in Australia is the APL’s recent $200 million TV deal with ViacomCBS.

ViacomCBS – who own Network 10 in Australia, have also acquired a small equity stake in the APL under terms of the deal.

Townsend explained to FNR why the APL’s partnership with ViacomCBS was the best way forward for the game.

“When we went sat down with ViacomCBS and their leadership, they looked across the table and said ‘we believe in your sport, we love your vision for your sport and we want to make it the number one sport on our network’,” he said.

“We wanted a partner that was in the trenches with us, because they are business partners.

“That’s why the shareholding for ViacomCBS in APL was really a symbolic thing. As much as it was great for us to have an organisation of their scale and experience involved, it was what it said about their commitment to football which made this thing work. They’ve been fantastic to deal with.”

The deal will give increased exposure to the A-Leagues across Network 10 properties such as The Project and Studio 10. Alongside this, A-League Men’s matches will be shown on 10’s main channel on Saturday night, with A-League Women’s matches to be shown on Sunday afternoons on 10BOLD.

“The Saturday night free-to-air game was really critical to us, both for the men’s league on the Saturday night and the women on the Sunday,” Townsend said.

“It’s ensuring that we carve out a window in the free-to-air environment that’s about football. From 6.30 to 10:00 on Saturday night, it will football night on a main channel, free-to-air…it will be great for us.”

However, the most important strategic piece to the puzzle according to Townsend is the APL’s $30 million digital football hub – which is set to be revealed later this month.

The hub will give fans the content they want, when they want it, something which the APL Managing Director believes the game has fallen short on over time.

“The challenge we’ve had in our game is there has been a vacuum of football content in Australia,” he said.

“I believe the most critical part of our strategy is what we’re launching before the season, which is the one stop shop for football in Australia, digitally.

“It is the biggest single investment football has made in itself. It’s a $30 million investment into digital infrastructure and data infrastructure that will serve the football fan. It won’t be the home of Australian football; it will be Australia’s home of football.

“What it will deliver is content – audio-visual, editorial and everything else you need. Part of the reason we are doing that, and investing in what we are calling APL studios, is ensuring that by organising the football community in one place we are able to deliver the utility in their everyday lives and focus on how they choose to consume football. If you do that they’ll keep coming back, you put great content in there, you serve it, you understand that fan and their preferences.

The APL will look to showcase A-League Youth games, reinvigorate the fantasy gaming sector and produce a range of unique programming on the digital hub, amongst other initiatives, which will target all types of football fans.

“On the programming around all of the A-Leagues, part of APL studios is actually creating that content – that wasn’t there in previous times,” Townsend said.

“Those midweek wrap up shows, those highlight shows, those debate shows with a focus on getting different cohorts of our fan base engaged. We will do shows for younger fans on the mixture of football culture on things like boots & music and all those things that that fan cohort wants.

“Because we have that flexibility with the studio to do that, you’ll see a lot more content. It’s not just about the studio, it’s about the ability to surface it to fans. With the digital platform that we’ll have, we’ll be able to ensure our content is seen by the different pockets of fans in different demographics.”

With new commercial partners to be announced in the coming weeks, the APL have started their transition away from the FA strongly, with all eyes set to be on the professional game when the leagues kick off from November 19.

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.

LaLiga initiative to support grassroots football worldwide

LaLiga

LaLiga has announced the launch of LaLiga Grassroots, in a bid to further advance and improve its bespoke sports and training projects, as well as promote LaLiga’s know-how and methodology.

This initiative is part of a series of international sports projects that LaLiga have been running since 2015 across multiple markets, and its most outstanding new feature is a series of programmes which are set to take place in Spain. The programmes will mainly be held at ESC Madrid, regarded as a state-of-the-art and world-beating sports complex.

Juan Florit, head of LaLiga Sports Projects, will be in charge of the technical and sports side of LaLiga Grassroots.

“LaLiga Grassroots was conceived as a new specialised unit conceived by the Sports Projects team and the International Business and Development team,” Florit said.

“Our activities will mainly focus on the holistic development of young players, international training programmes for professionals in the sector, and projects to promote and support LaLiga clubs when it comes to their academies and running international tournaments.”

This new project represents a further step in LaLiga’s creation and execution of sports projects, an area through which it has enjoyed great success over the last six seasons.

The project is set to find positions for nearly 750 Spanish coaches, as well as provide training for more than 20,000 coaches and 175,000 players in the more than 400 projects carried out across 38 countries.

Javier Hernandez, Head of Business and International Development for the project, was excited to see LaLiga Grassroots finally launched.

“The work we’ve carried out over the years in training players and coaches internationally has taken things to the next level, not only for those who have worked with LaLiga, but also for the league itself and its clubs,” he said.

“We’re convinced that now, with the creation of LaLiga Grassroots and the new programmes that we’ll be running at the ESC Madrid Center, we’ll be able to create better opportunities for everyone.”

Football West CEO James Curtis steps down to usher in new leadership

Football West

Football West have announced that James Curtis will be stepping down from his position as Chief Executive Officer, after more than five years in the role. As he makes his transition, Football West have now commenced their succession planning.

The decision taken by Curtis reaffirms Football West’s dedication as an organisation to fostering long-term growth through the benefits provided by leadership succession.

Football West Chairman Sherif Andrawes praised Curtis’ strong leadership and commitment to delivering a long-term legacy for football in Western Australia, since commencing in the role in 2016.

“James has been an outstanding CEO and his focus on driving long-term growth, investment and community benefit have contributed to a bright future for football,” Andrawes said.

“His commitment to working with all parts of the WA community and government to engage with football and being a leader driving diversity, inclusion and engagement has ensured football is positioned well for the future of the game.

“With significant achievements including funding for the long-awaited WA State Football Centre, securing the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup in WA and establishing the Football Futures Foundation, there have been many successes during his tenure.”

Curtis conveyed that it was the right time to step down from the role and to transition leadership, with Football West strongly positioned for leveraging record growth.

“We have built a great team across Western Australia that is well positioned to continue building on our strong foundations. After more than five years in the position and rebuilding from the impact of COVID-19, we are ready for a new CEO to implement and deliver our future strategy,” Curtis said.

“I have enjoyed working closely with our Board and our valued partners across government, corporate and the football community to deliver major milestones for the game in WA and establish strong partnerships across Asia for WA football.

“We have a vibrant and passionate football community that will continue to grow on the back of strong clubs and volunteers and our dedicated Football West team.”

Curtis will continue his involvement with football as a Non-Executive Director of Football Futures Foundation – which is chaired by Nick Tana, and supporting the transition to find the new CEO.

Football West has commenced an internal and external search for the company’s next CEO.

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